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“They’re very safe”: Dr. Rai recommends all 3 COVID-19 vaccines

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 7:20 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai says all three COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in the fight against the virus. The state is set to get shipments of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the coming days.

Dr. Rai says people should take whichever vaccine is available to them. “All three I would take personally. All three I would recommend to my family, and recommend to our patients.”

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursdays on Action 2 News This Morning. Have a question? Email news@wbay.com

Previous Dr. Rai segments: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE

Wisconsin is expected to get 47,000 doses of the J&J vaccine by next week. Is it as good as Moderna and Pfizer shots?

“It’s a great question. I think it’s everybody’s favorite question this week. The most important thing to remember is why did we get the vaccine? What was the end point that we were looking for? The major end point that we were all looking for is preventing death. Not getting very sick from COVID-19. All three vaccines in their studies against those who did not get a vaccine did really well in that. I think people are getting a little hung up on some of the data around what about mild disease, what about moderate disease? It’s important to know that these three vaccines have never been tested head to head. They were tested against a placebo, against something else. They were all tested in different environments at different times. For example, J&J’s enrollment was later than the enrollment of Moderna and Pfizer, hence it being a few months later to get to us, and there was a lot more COVID in the wild at that point, in the community, and there were other variants in the community. So it’s like taking three race horses and putting them on three different race tracks--one in the mud, one in good running conditions--and saying one’s faster than the other. There’s no way to really do a cross walk to Moderna, Pfizer and J&J and do a comparison based on those numbers because they were tested in different environments. What we do know about all three is that all three have a very good safety profile. In other words, they’re very safe. What we also know is all three were very good against placebo at preventing serious disease or death. At the end of the day, the best shot is the one you can get. All three I would take personally. All three I would recommend to my family, and recommend to our patients. Right now, I think we should celebrate the fact that we have a third. One that’s easier to give, doesn’t require a freezer, it’s a single dose and it works really, really well. If, on its own, you didn’t know Moderna and Pfizer and you had J&J released first, we would be celebrating this like we celebrated the other two. So we should celebrate it now, that we have a third vaccine that’s really good.”

TEACHER VACCINATIONS

“Yesterday was the first day we were allowed to do it. We could schedule last week, but yesterday was the first day we were allowed to give it. Between yesterday and today, we gave, or will give 4,500 doses to teachers. It doesn’t mean we’re not vaccinating those who are 65 and older. This week, our schedules open up on Monday nights, they opened up last night and 65 and older and teachers could be vaccinated. The state has asked us to create a prioritization system for teachers until March 15 where there will actually be a separate supply for teachers and then more and more of the eligible classes can get vaccinated while still making sure we take care of our 65 and older. I think what was really important that before we started doing the teachers or anybody else is we made sure we crossed that 50 percent threshold for 65 and older, and actually, in Brown County, we’re approaching a 60 percent threshold of them vaccinated. Doesn’t mean everybody. We have a long way to go. But now, it’s time to start overlapping the other eligible groups so we can continue to quickly get through the eligible people and get through the rest of our community.”

NEWLY ELIGIBLE GROUPS

“It’s not only teachers that are eligible, but they are the priority. They actually put them on a list. You have teachers, you have those who are in health care that were not forward facing but necessary for the health care infrastructure. You have those that are forward facing in certain critical jobs, such as 911 operators, those involved in food production, those involved in our power plants, you have those who live and work in a congregate setting. There’s a couple on that list--I recommend everybody going to the DHS website or prevea.com/vaccine and there’s details to all that, such as the Medicaid population that stays at home and is homebound and those caretakers. There’s an entire list of finding that for people on the web page that you can sort through.”

VACCINE ALLOCATION

“It really depends on how the Johnson & Johnson’s going to be distributed. That’s not up to us, that’s up to the state. But if you look at 47,000 doses, you know, we were getting 70,000 a week and then we celebrating getting 100,000 a week, it’s like a 40 percent increase. That’s a lot. We’ll get it into arms if we get it.”

UNDERLYING HEALTH CONDITIONS

People with conditions like COPD are wondering why they aren’t prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“First of all, we feel that too. We want to vaccinate our patients that are at the highest risk from a medical standpoint. When the committees sit down and they talk about risk, they look at exposure risk, and economic risk, and they look at health risk. They look at that all together. There’s no perfect formula. The CDC makes some recommendations and Wisconsin DHS makes the rules. I think that’s important for everybody to know. All we can say is be patient right now and hope that we get more and more vaccine, because our mass vaccination sites will get them through as quickly as possible so we can move on to those next eligible phases. This last eligible phase--this one that we just opened up yesterday with teachers and others in there--that’s seven-to-eight-hundred-thousand people. Now with the new vaccines coming out and more supply, hopefully it won’t take that long. In the meantime stay safe. Wear a mask. Physically separate as much as you can and be safe until we can get you this vaccine.

“It’s looking a lot better for that, maybe even faster really, depending, if you really look at what supply needs to be from J&J and the numbers that they’ve said Wisconsin’s going to get, and you look at where Pfizer and Moderna need to be to get paid by the end of the month, and you look at those numbers, I’m hoping by the end of March we get a significantly higher supply, we get those into arms and we move on to the next eligible phases.”

BILLED FOR TEST

A viewer wants to know why she was partially billed for a COVID-19 test.

“In May, an act was passed that said you should not have any cost sharing. In other words, if you have insurance you should bill insurance and you should have no balance bill. In other words, the insurance should pick up the cost of that test. There were some caveats that certain insurance companies put in in the spring around making sure you had a symptom to get that test, etc. That was rectified in this last month by the new administration saying you should get paid for a test no matter what. No cost sharing. Same thing for a vaccine. If you have insurance or don’t have insurance get the shot. The health care provider’s supposed to figure that out on the back end and not have a balance bill.”

HEALTH PROVIDERS AND THE RULES

Do health care providers have to strictly follow all state rules or can they go “rebel”?

“We can’t go rebel. There’s been some cases of people going rebel in the state of Wisconsin and consequences to that. We don’t want to put the consequences at risk to getting vaccines to everybody and getting them into arms. So, for the most part, there’s certain circumstances or situations that happen, but I’d say 99.9 percent of the time you’re following the rules.”

IMMUNE SYSTEM AND VACCINE

A 71-year-old viewer who touts his strong immune system wants to know if the COVID vaccine puts it at risk.

“No, actually you’re kind of doing the opposite. You’re 71, you’re healthy, you need to get vaccinated because you’re still high risk because of your age. We’ve seen healthy 71-year-olds die of COVID. We don’t want to see that happen to anybody. So I’m glad you’re getting vaccinated. Actually, you’re giving that great immune system a little extra boost. It’s going to be exposed to this COVID antigen--not COVID itself--just that spike protein. It’s going to have a response ready for when you’re exposed to COVID. So it’s great that you’re getting immunized and it should not affect your immune system.”

BONE MARROW TRANSPLANTS AND VACCINES

A viewer who had a bone marrow transplant was told she cannot get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She can get Pfizer or Moderna. Will she be able to ask for Moderna or Pfizer?

“It’s important to know as physicians we still are getting all of our information on the J&J vaccine. That should complete today with certain meetings and then we’ll know if there’s any definite contraindications to getting that. So say there was a transplant patient and that was listed as a definite contraindication, then your provider can contact those who are providing vaccines around the area if they’re not themselves and arrange the vaccine that’s best for you. I think, number one, we have to wait before we say we can and can’t get a certain vaccine and we wait for those details to be released throughout the day today from the CDC and the right recommendations, and we make sure that we follow the scie3nce behind that.”

KIDS AND VACCINE TRIALS

Are children part of COVID-19 vaccine trials?

“You still have to do the research on it. The research, initially, Pfizer was 16 and above, J&J, Moderna 18 and above, and to do the pediatric research takes a special enrollment. That’s been going on since December. Most of those trials are actually fully enrolled. Now we’re following those kids in the situation where we’re in where there’s people who got the vaccine and those that got placebo, that data should get to us in May, get looked at more in early summer, and maybe decisions by mid-to-late summer.”

DOES THE VACCINE CHANGE YOUR DNA?

“It does not. It does use some of our cell’s genetic power binding with this outside mRNA to make a protein, but it does not change your DNA in any way.”

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