At the end of July, Dr. Matt Pflieger, health officer for the Huntington County Board of Health, created and shared a short series of videos answering some frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics varied from how quickly the vaccines against COVID-19 were made to side affects of the vaccine to how the Delta variant of COVID-19 is currently spreading.
The videos were originally posted to the Huntington County Health Department Facebook Page from July 26 through July 29. Each day, a video would have a different topic that related to frequently brought up questions and concerns.
The first in the series tackled the question of whether or not the vaccines were created too quickly to possibly be safe.
Dr. Pflieger began the July 26 video by explaining that any vaccine goes through a three-phase process of testing. These phases of testing determine what the correct vaccine dosage is to give to patients, whether or not the vaccine is safe and whether or not they are effective. These trials typically need between 30,000 and 50,000 participants to ensure accurate results.
According to Pflieger, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines all had similar amounts of people in the trials.
One factor that was “instrumental” in making sure that the vaccines against COVID-19 were developed quickly was funding.
“Vaccine trials require a lot of money,” Pflieger said in the video. “The Trump administration put a lot of money in to help companies develop these vaccines quickly, which is another reason why it was able to come together so quickly.”
Not only was funding one of the main reasons that the vaccines came together so quickly, but the fact that the pandemic is ongoing also played a key role in the speed at which the vaccines were rolled out.
“You’re able to test if a vaccine is effective and safe in a much more rapid time because a lot of people are getting exposed to the virus,” Pflieger said. “So, you can see cause and effect a lot faster than with other viruses that maybe only pop up during certain months of the year and only in certain populations.”
Another frequently asked question that was brought up during the first video was the matter of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Pflieger said that a question he heard often was, if it is so safe, why haven’t the vaccines received approval by the FDA and only approved for emergency use?
“The only thing that would get (it) FDA approved is more time to watch the people that were in the original trial – usually, about a year,” Pflieger said.
“We’re now getting to that point with Pfizer, that we’ve been watching these people for about a year in those trials. Their ability to get FDA approval should be happening relatively soon, and it will happen.”
The next video in Pflieger’s series, which was published on July 27, dealt with questions about long-term side affects from the vaccines. To start, Pflieger addressed a hand-drawn rendering of the coronavirus and reminded listeners that COVID-19 vaccines are “about priming your immune system to recognize this little spike protein that sits outside of the coronavirus.”
Pflieger explained that, when the body learns to recognize the spike proteins, the body can then fight off the virus and prevent it from causing problems.
“All of the vaccines work a little bit differently on how it gets your body to recognize the spike protein,” Pflieger said. “But they all work similarly, and then the vaccine is gone in a couple of days. The vaccine does what it needs to do, and then it’s gone.”
Pflieger explained that the vaccine gives the body the ability to learn how to fight the virus – and that once the cells of the body have learned how to fight the virus off, they “sit there and wait” until the real thing shows up.
“They just wait – from the moment that a spike protein shows up in your body, in your bloodstream somewhere, it comes in, signals the troops and fights off COVID, ” he said.
Pflieger also reminded the community that the vaccines do not transmit COVID-19, but instead are just giving the body a method to form an immune response against COVID-19.
“The other thing that we would say within the world of vaccines is, if you’re going to see side affects of that vaccine, you’re going to probably see them within the first three months or within the first 3 million people,” Pflieger said.
“That’s this really big key time frame that you’re going to see problems.”
According to Pflieger, around 300 million vaccines have been doled out between the Pfizer and Moderna brands.
The third video in the series, which came on July 28, dealt with the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is said to be even more contagious. Pflieger began his video by explaining how variants come to be, and then went on to discuss why the Delta variant is so concerning.
“Essentially what happens is, coronavirus is an RNA virus and these are replicating millions of times over and over in your body and other people’s bodies,” Pflieger said. “Mutations can happen when replicating – and in RNA viruses, those mutations are more likely to happen. It’s inevitable when a virus keeps running through the population. Which makes herd immunity – natural herd immunity – very near impossible because there are so many variations that can happen.”
Pflieger then said that it’s the fact that the Delta variant is more contagious than the other versions of COVID-19 that make it concerning.
“The problem with the Delta variant is that you’re more likely to get other people sick and spread it to them,” Pflieger said. “That’s what we’re trying to communicate to people. The sheer fact that you’re going to have more people sick, you’re going to have a higher number of hospitalizations and deaths and things . . . that’s kind of our concern right now.”
Pflieger said that, because there are some states in the U.S. that have larger populations coming down with the Delta variant, doctors are able to watch and follow what could possibly happen in other parts of the country because of the variant.
“In Indiana, the positive tests are coming back about 70 percent Delta variant,” Pflieger said. “It’s out there, it’s in our community, it’s happening. And we just need to be aware of that.”
Although there is a large portion of the population in the U.S. that has received vaccinations for COVID-19, Pflieger said it was important to note that a vaccinated individual could still catch COVID-19, and even catch the Delta variant of the virus.
“It’s just that your symptoms will be much more mild,” Pflieger said. “You’re much less likely to get a severe disease. Fewer people will be hospitalized or dying.”
Lastly, on July 29, Pflieger weighed the pros and cons of getting vaccinated.
He drew a visual aid on a white board, to represent the calculations that people often make when decidind whether or not to get the vaccine. He described it as a teeter-totter, with the risk of getting the vaccine on one side of the teeter-totter and the risk of getting COVID-19 on the other side.
Pflieger explained that there is a part of the population that does not view the risk of getting COVID-19 as “that big of a deal,” because through the course of the pandemic, they have managed not to get sick with the virus. He then brought the Delta variant back up.
“With the Delta variant, where it’s more contagious, the risk of getting COVID goes up. You’re more likely to run into COVID moving forward and are more likely to get sick,” Pflieger said. “The other thing I would say is, from what we’ve seen of people getting COVID and we’ve seen as side affects of people getting the vaccine, the risks of getting COVID are more than the risks of getting the vaccine.”
Pflieger also acknowledged that there is still doubt surrounding the vaccines and the pandemic. He followed up that acknowledgement with his first-hand experience with treating patients and dealing with vaccines as well.
“Some people don’t believe me on that, and I hear them,” Pflieger said. “But from my standpoint, when I am treating people, when I am seeing side affects of the vaccines, when I’m continually watching the studies that come out about the vaccines, and also listening to patient’s experiences of getting COVID, that’s where I come from. That the risks of getting COVID are more than the risks of the vaccine.”
Pflieger then drew another teeter-totter diagram, which demonstrated weighing the risk of the vaccine versus the benefit to the community as a whole when people get vaccinated.
“I get that there’s the individual risk you have to weight to getting the vaccine- but you also have to put into the calculation, what is the benefit to my community that I live in by getting the vaccine? And everyone’s calculator is different, right? But this is how we can talk to each other and understand where we’re coming from,” he said.
Pflieger identified the “benefit to my community” side of the second teeter-totter diagram and stated that he “lives here really heavily” and stated that he wasn’t concerned about the risk of the vaccine - but acknowledged that there are other that lean more heavily on the risk of the vaccine side of things.
He again reminded viewers of the Delta variant and how contagious it is.
“We don’t want to infect someone else,” Pflieger said. “I’m not trying to coerce anybody into getting vaccinated, I just want to ensure that they have the tools they need to make the decision that will help them and those around them.”
Those who would like to watch these videos in full may do so by visiting the Huntington County Health Department Facebook Page, @Huntingtonhealth.
According to an info graphic posted to the Health Department page, Huntington County had gone back up to an orange-level advisory as of Wednesday, Aug. 11. This indicates a high community spread of COVID-19 within Huntington County.
Anyone age 12 and older may schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. Anyone younger than 18 must receive the Pfizer vaccine. Appointments can be scheduled by visiting ourshot.in.gov or by calling 2-1-1.