Hally Healthcast: COVID-19, the Vaccine and Coping During the Pandemic

Hally® Healthcast is the monthly wellness podcast from Hally health. This month, we explore COVID-19 through three important sets of eyes: doctors, nurses and pharmacists. The panel discusses the ups and downs we’ve experienced lately in our fight against the pandemic, answers common questions about the new vaccines and chats about mental health and coping during these difficult times.

Our expert panelists from Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, IL, include: Brent Reifsteck, MD, an experienced pediatric hospitalist, physician lead of the Child Abuse Safety Team and the medical director of Children’s Services; Elizabeth Angelo, DNP, chief nursing officer and senior vice president; and Linda Fred, a registered pharmacist and vice president of Pharmacy Services. Listen here, or read a quick summary in the article below.

COVID-19 Updates: Vaccination, Coping with the Pandemic and More

The pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on people’s lives. While it’s not over yet, there’s promise on the horizon with the approval and initial distribution of two different vaccines. One important factor to note, however, is that individuals under the age of 16 are not eligible for vaccination.

“Pretty much my entire patient population cannot get vaccinated,” Dr. Reifsteck said. “So I need every single adult that is able, once your number comes up and you’re able to get that vaccine, I need you to go get it. I need you to do that because of my kids, because that’s how we’re going to protect them.”

COVID-19: Why It’s So Dangerous

Coronaviruses have existed for a very long time. COVID-19 is one type of coronavirus that’s far more severe and unknown than the previous strains. It’s significantly more infectious and lethal than any coronavirus in history. 

Invading through the respiratory tract, like many other viruses, COVID-19 can cause damage in multiple organs, including the lungs, liver, kidney and heart. It can also affect gastrointestinal, hematological and nervous systems.

The Vaccine: Myth vs. Fact

Some people are still deciding whether or not they should get the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Reifsteck assures it’s completely safe. The technology has been studied for decades, and the shot you’re getting isn’t made from – and doesn’t include – the actual virus.

“There’s no viral component of the virus within the drug,” Fred explained. “The mRNA process uses messenger RNA. That’s what the ‘m’ in mRNA stands for. Messenger RNA is our body’s mechanism of passing information from cell to cell. So, this mRNA brings a pattern for how to make a spike protein, and then we produce antibodies against the spike protein.”

And although the vaccine was produced faster than many others, safety wasn’t compromised along the way. Due to the urgency of getting it to the market, manufacturers were allowed to run various phases of the production process simultaneously instead of sequentially.

“In fact, they were starting to mass produce it before they even got the emergency use authorization,” Dr. Reifsteck said.

Both vaccines have been proven to be approximately 94 – 95% effective. One of the primary goals with vaccination is to achieve a threshold for herd immunity.

“We need somewhere between 60 and 80% of the general population to be immune, either by vaccination or by natural infection, before we can achieve that herd immunity,” Dr. Reifsteck said. “That will knock this virus down to the point where it’s not going to pass through the population as readily.”

The Vaccination Process: Safety Protocols and Timelines

As for the vaccination process itself, a great deal of care and deliberation has been put into place to make getting vaccinated safe. Distribution facilities are operating off of evidence-based guidelines and following strict hygiene and protection protocols.

“We’re taking all of these precautions to make it a really safe experience. And I just want to add, nurses are excited to get this vaccine,” Angelo said. “It represents a meaningful, tangible step that we can take to address the events of the past year and to build toward a more hopeful 2021. It’s been exciting to see colleagues get the vaccine. For many of them, it’s really emotional. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Carle Health is following the recommended tiered approach to vaccine administration, which starts with front-line healthcare workers.

“The tiered approach is set up to try and get the vaccine to the highest risk people first, or the ones with the most exposure,” Dr. Reifsteck said. “Everybody does need to try to be patient. You’ve done a great job since last March of social distancing, wearing a mask and taking all the necessary precautions. Keep doing it just a little bit longer. Be patient with us. Everybody’s doing their best, but we’ll get you your vaccine. The end of the road is in sight.”

Mental Health Support

The past year has been challenging for everyone. While the physiological impact of the virus has certainly taken its toll, it’s also crucial for healthcare professionals to talk transparently about the impact on mental health. The additional stress from the pandemic’s uncertainty and isolation has been devastating. Many people are dealing with a level of anxiety and depression they haven’t previously experienced.

“It’s so important to reach out for support,” Angelo said. “There’s never been more resources available, virtually, for mental health. Many therapists and support groups have taken those services online to be more accessible when we can’t gather together physically. All these feelings are normal and very widely felt at this point. They are certainly nothing to be ashamed of.”

She encourages individuals who are struggling with anxiety or depression to incorporate various tactics, such as being physically active, practicing meditation or other techniques to induce mindfulness, and staying connected with loved ones. If mental health issues are becoming too overwhelming despite these interventions, medication may be an option.

A Note to Parents

As a pediatrician, Dr. Reifsteck understands the challenges parents have faced throughout the pandemic. Kids take their cues from the adults around them, so he says the best approach is for parents to be honest, realistic and calm.

“Really what they’re looking for is, ‘Is it going to be OK?’ And it is. It’s going to be OK. We’re going to get there. We just have to take really good care of ourselves and of each other. Kids are resilient. They can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. They’re also a lot smarter than we give them credit for, most of the time. Allow them to be a part of this and make sure they understand it’s going to be OK.”

Interested in learning more? Listen to the full interview above. And stay tuned for next month’s episode of the Hally Healthcast.

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