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“Begging for more vaccine”: Dr. Rai explains supply issues and promise for millions more doses

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 7:45 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - There’s a big demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, but only so much supply to go around. Prevea President & CEO Dr. Ashok Rai says his team is begging for more vaccine.

“The state still is locked into this 70,000-or so doses a week that they’re getting from the federal government, so that pie keeps getting divided up and divided up and divided up, so we’re getting less and less every week,” Dr. Rai told us on Action 2 News This Morning.

However, there’s hope on the horizon. Pfizer and Moderna have promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of March.

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursdays on Action 2 News This Morning. We’re giving him a break for a few days, and he’ll be back in studio on Feb. 11. Have a question? Email news@wbay.com.

PREVIOUS DR. RAI SEGMENTS: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

GUIDE TO SCHEDULING VACCINE APPOINTMENT: https://www.wbay.com/2021/01/25/guide-to-making-an-appointment-for-covid-19-vaccine/

WHY WE NEED THE VACCINE

“You got to remember, this virus lives by replication. And replication happens in humans. It doesn’t happen in the air, it doesn’t happen on the counter. It only happens in a human. If a vaccination is in a human, it prevents that replication, so it prevents the mutation. I think we’re really worried about more and more mutations around the country. We’ve seen it happen over a year now. We don’t want that to happen. It’s not only vaccinating all of us, but it’s really making sure the world is vaccinated, too, so this virus can stop mutating. In the interim, if you wear a mask and stay six feet apart, you’re also preventing the virus from finding a human host and also preventing mutations. So we need all of it right now to prevent replication, which prevents mutation.”

LOCAL VACCINE SUPPLY

“The state still is locked into this 70,000-or so doses a week that they’re getting from the federal government, so that pie keeps getting divided up and divided up and divided up, so we’re getting less and less every week. Until that 70,000 changes or the state stops dividing it up and then starts to reallocate to say, sites that can do it more efficiently, we’re still going to see a decline every week until that changes.

“I think the state’s starting to realize that and make some changes here this week, but it’s only a week. Remember, if they make a change this week we won’t see it until next week because of the way the allocation numbers work. For right now, I wouldn’t expect huge amounts of appointments coming open until March, if even well into March, if we see that.”

VACCINE SIDE EFFECTS

“So there’s two different categories here. There’s the grade effects, which is that immune response, that sore arm, the fevers, the chills for a little bit, that means your immune system is working. Those grade effects, we’re hearing about them, we’re happy about it, they go away within a day.

“As far as true side effects, an adverse reaction to the vaccine, we haven’t seen many, if anything, that’s been long standing with them, or any that would prevent another dose from happening. We make sure that we assess people on site for 15 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes, and then if they have any issue there that they have an appointment with their primary care doctor or an allergist before the second shot. So far I’d say, at least for our experience, that it’s gone very well.

“Talk to your doctor. There’s a very, very tiny percentage of the population that shouldn’t get this vaccine. We’re talking probably less than a percentage that shouldn’t. Some people have some immune system issues that they need to discuss with their physician. Generally, everybody should be getting this vaccine.”

VACCINE DELIVERY DEADLINE

By March 31, Pfizer and Moderna each promised to deliver 100 million doses of vaccine.

“Number one, it means they have to kick it up and they have to kick it up big time right now to meet that deadline. And they’ve said they’ll meet that deadline. Which means that we should expect more vaccine to hit our doors mid-February, early March to really have a good March. Remember, when it hits our doors, it’s our job as vaccinators to ramp up our operations to get it into arms. So we have to get ready, which we are doing, and we want more right now. We are literally begging for more vaccine. Moderna has already said this week that they’re going to start ramping up their supply, which we will hopefully in the next allocation, so that would be next week. Pfizer has a little bit of catching up to do, but had a head start. If both of these companies are going to hit that 100 million, which they said would by end of March, we should see a lot more vaccine being distributed in this country during the month of March.

“A lot more people will get vaccinated and we’ll be a lot busier, which will make us happier. That will be a third of Americans vaccinated, or a little less, and we need to just keep ramping that up to get the next third in the next quarter, and then by the end of the summer, feel really good about public.”

DO UNUSUED VACCINES GET DISCARDED?

If someone fails to show up for their vaccine appointment, does that dose get thrown out?

“So, we are definitely not discarding vaccine. There are times at the end of the day, when we were first starting out, when you realized, oh wow, you can get six doses out of this vial, not five. There may have been some extra doses that needed to be into arms as quickly as possible so it didn’t expire. Never thrown away. What we’ve gotten better at over the weeks is to understand, even if there is a cancellation, a no show, is how pharmacy draws up the vaccine throughout the day and then recalibrates its counts throughout the day, depending on the schedule. So we’ve gotten very good at that. So at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be an issue. It’s never been thrown away. Yes, there have been times it’s been emergently put into a qualified arm. That’s what the state said, make sure it gets into somebody’s arm. So we’ve done that. But now, the new processes, the things that we’ve learned by having pharmacy on site, which is really important for us, especially with the Pfizer vaccine, is to recalibrate throughout the day.”

JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE

The Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine could get emergency approval soon. It’s not as effective as Pfizer and Moderna. Should people still get it?

“I think it’s really unfortunate, the timing for Johnson & Johnson, with Moderna and Pfizer. If you would have come to me in September and said we had a 67-percent efficacy rate, 85-percent not getting as serious disease, and 100-percent not dying, that’s a miracle drug and we would have been very happy. It still is--still a very efficacious vaccine. Better than most that we’ve seen. Granted, it might not have the exact same numbers as Pfizer and Moderna. Pfizer and Moderna were tested at a different time, different strains were available. Different strains during the J&J. It’s still a very good vaccine, one that we recommend. We’ll have to, number one, see if it gets through the FDA process before we can officially recommend it. But so far, the research looks really good. It also looked very safe, which I think is very important. Just as safe as the other two. So, great vaccine. Great tool that we’ll be able to use, especially given you don’t need to freeze it. It’s one shot. You can start to see this used around the country and around the world a little bit faster.

“You have a really good chance not to get COVID, let’s make sure we understand that. If you do, you’ll still have a strong enough immune response to protect you from that serious disease and from death. That’s really good news. It’s almost like, yeah, if you got COVID you’d still be strong enough to fight it. Almost, you’ve dumbed it down, the virus, to not be as lethal because of your immune response to that J&J vaccine.”

VACCINE DEATH RUMORS DEBUNKED

Some people have heard rumors that people have died after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Is that true?

“No. Nothing’s been reported to us through the FDA, and that would be something that would be an alert right away. Even serious, major allergic reactions are super rare. Maybe a handful through the entire country. Notice that we’ve given millions of [doses] of the vaccine, so, once again, proving itself to be very safe.”

VACCINE CLINIC SAFETY

A viewer is nervous about going into a vaccine clinic with other people. How do they keep it safe?

“I think I’ve said it a couple of times, we not only wanted to do this at scale, but we wanted to do it right. The first thing about doing it right is to make sure it is safe for you getting the vaccine. But also the process. Everybody has to be masked at the site. There’s stickers on the ground to make sure everybody stays six feet away. We try to make sure the process continues to move. And it’s in a really big space, so there’s a lot of good air circulation. Even when we’re observing you for that 15-to-30 minute time period, you’re still very spaced out and chairs are cleaned on a regular basis to make sure that you’re sitting on a clean chair. So there’s a lot of things that are going on, and that’s just on the surface. There’s a lot more underneath the surface that’s going on to make sure it’s safe for you.”

VACCINE TOURISM

Are people traveling across the state to get the vaccine? Is that OK?

“There was an initial push for that because there were not a lot of large sites. I think as large sites open up in Milwaukee, and on the west side of the state like we did yesterday, and even in the Valley that’s opening up this week, that should get less and less of an issue. You have to understand that people really want this vaccine, which is really good news for us. It’s within the state it’s allocated to, so it’s very hard to prevent that. The only way to prevent that is to make sure we open up more sites and we get more vaccine to more communities so that can stop. And hopefully over the next month we’ll see a decline in that.”

SNOWBIRDS AND VACCINE

Should people who get their first vaccine in Wisconsin wait for the second shot before traveling to Florida for the winter?

“It’s two shots and you have to have them at the same spot--or through the same provider. Provider may have moved their clinic, so I want to make sure we clarify that. But through the same provider. If you got Pfizer dose one today, the state knows to get us, in 21 days, your second shot. It doesn’t know to get that to Florida, nor could it get it there. So you have to make sure in that same time period, you’re in the same state and you have access to the same provider.”

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