The time to vaccinate is now.
As the South Dakota COVID-19 vaccination effort continues to ramp up, with larger allocations of doses, Avera’s vaccination team aims to keep pace with the number of people who want the vaccine.
“We have a lot of doses. We don’t necessarily have arms to put them in,” Nathan Johnson, communications coordinator at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital (ASHH), told the Press & Dakotan.
However, as of Monday, all South Dakota residents over the age of 16 are now eligible to receive the vaccine, which opens the door for a much larger population.
“Thankfully, here in Yankton County, we have the Pfizer vaccine, which is approved for people ages 16 and older,” said Liz Healy, ASHH Quality/Infection Prevention director. “Those 16 and 17 year olds that would like to receive a vaccine can receive it here in Yankton, which is really great for our community and certainly for our schools as well.”
Also, Avera appointment can now be scheduled online, making it easier than ever, she said.
“There is a neat little box that literally says, ‘Schedule My Appointment,’ and you can click on that and answer a couple of really quick questions to ensure that you qualify for the vaccine,” Healy said. “Once you do, you can toggle down to put in the location where you would like to receive your vaccine.”
The website allows the user to determine the date and time that is most convenient, she said.
“So if you go online, you’re not being put on a waiting list — there is no waiting list — you are literally scheduling your own appointment online,” Healy said. “You don’t have to wait for somebody else to call you back and make sure you’re eligible.”
On Avera’s COVID website, there is also a chat feature available in both English and Spanish, to assist site visitors who have questions or need a more information, Healy said.
“In addition, the Yankton Community Library has computers available and they know how to navigate the site,” Healy said. “Library staff has been really helpful and willing to assist people in using the computers there to sign up for an appointment, which is a huge blessing for our community.”
For those who have difficulty accessing the Internet, Avera also offers vaccination scheduling via its hotline, which, according to Healy, has been freed up significantly since the website was updated to allow for scheduling online.
Healy also encourages individuals in Priority Groups A-E who did not receive a vaccine to schedule an appointment.
“Maybe they’ve changed their mind, maybe it’s a new job and they weren’t eligible before, maybe they got monoclonal antibodies and they had to wait 90 days, and now their 90 days are up,” she said. “We’ve had a very good response to that online scheduling of appointments, because it’s just so much more convenient for people.”
When considering vaccination for oneself or an eligible child, people should realize that no steps were skipped in the clinical trials to rush the vaccines through to approval process, she said.
“In the U.S. alone, we have given 169 million doses of the COVID vaccine and there have been no red flags about major complications, so we know these vaccines are safe,” Healy said. “If a parent and a child 16 or older choose to get the vaccines, I think that that will only add to our community’s herd immunity, because herd immunity is completed by mass vaccinations.”
Also, the vaccines are shown to offer protection against the COVID variants, which, she notes, are already in South Dakota.
“You very well may have had a COVID infection or your child may have had a COVID infection last fall and done just fine,” Healy said. “Being vaccinated helps very much lower your risk for severe complications from one of those variants.”
At this time, vaccines are known to be effective for at least six months, but researchers are continuing to monitor individuals from the clinical trials to determine when another dose would be needed and whether there are any adverse after-effects of the vaccine, Healy said.
“These clinical trials found that there were no serious safety concerns through up to six months following that second dose,” she said.
Results from the clinical trials are also expected to help determine whether the vaccination shots will be needed yearly, every 10 years or once in a lifetime, she said.
One of the most common questions Healy said she is asked is whether or not the vaccines are linked to infertility.
“There were several women who got pregnant during the clinical trial, so, right there, that tells you that that’s probably an unsubstantiated claim,” Healy said. “Now, we have information up to six months after that second dose, and researchers are saying there is no link between the claim that the vaccines can cause infertility.”
The American College of Obstetricians, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women get vaccinated.
“This science is not ending, it’s ever living,” she said “We’re continuing to gain data, and the data right now is looking very, very good.”
A THIRD VACCINE
Once Avera receives some of the Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, Healy said she plans to have a trial walk-in vaccine clinic to see if there is a demand for that in the Yankton community.
Walk-in clinics are a little bit harder with the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines because we want to make sure that we’re not preparing a bunch of doses that we don’t have people for,” she said. “Those vaccines really need to be left in the freezer in order to last more than five days. “
The J&J vaccine is stable in the refrigerator for longer, she said.
“The current recommendation from health professionals is that the best vaccine is the one that is immediately available to you,” Healy said. “I think the people of Yankton County have a lot of really great options.”
Currently, the South Dakota Department of Health is only allowing vaccination of residents. Nebraska residents should visit, www.vaccinate.ne.gov/en-US/ .
To schedule a COVID vaccination appointment go to www.avera.org/services/primary-care/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine/ or call the Avera hotline at 1-877-AT-AVERA (877-282-8372).