COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in Shelby County, in large part due to the Delta variant, which accounts for over 90 percent of new cases.

Experts are imploring everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against the virus to protect themselves and others.

Dr. Martin Croce, Regional One Health Chief Medical Officer, said the vaccines are highly safe and effective and are proving durable against the new variants.

COVID-19 is once again surging in Shelby County, with the highly transmittable Delta variant accounting for over 90 percent of new cases. While that is cause for concern, Regional One Health experts say there is a free, safe and effective way to fight back: get vaccinated.

Chief Medical Officer Martin Croce, MD and Senior Vice President/Chief Integration Officer Susan Cooper said vaccination is the best tool to help end the pandemic and keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, but more people need to take advantage of it.

“There really is quite a simple solution to this, and that is to get vaccinated,” Dr. Croce said. “It’s not only a community safety issue, it’s a personal safety issue. Over 99 percent of the deaths are occurring in patients who are not vaccinated, and those vaccinated patients who have died almost always had a significant medical comorbidity. The answer is to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Croce and Cooper addressed questions about the vaccines.

Are the vaccines proving to be safe and effective?

“Their safety profile is unprecedented as far as vaccines go, and their effectiveness is also very high – in the 95 percent range at preventing disease,” Dr. Croce said. “For anyone who says they want to wait and see how people do, it’s pretty clear that millions and millions and millions and millions of people who have received these vaccines have done well.”

Regional One Health Chief Medical Officer Martin Croce, MD

The only proven side effects continue to be mild, short-lived flu-like symptoms like low-grade fever, fatigue, headache and body aches.

Are the vaccines effective against the Delta variant?

Dr. Croce said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the two most widely used in Tennessee, are durable against the Delta variant while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is slightly less effective.

It’s a matter of technology, he said. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses a piece of virus to spark an immune response, while Pfizer and Moderna use MRNA to cause the body to produce antibodies against the virus’s spike protein, stopping it from attacking healthy cells.

“The MRNA technology can handle the variants better because it focuses on pieces of the virus that are extremely unlikely to change,” he said.  “When those segments are targeted by our own antibodies, the virus dies.”

Can vaccinated people transmit COVID-19?

Probably. Dr. Croce said vaccinated patients who carry the virus will likely have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, but they could still pass it along.

“They most likely can transmit the disease, especially to someone who’s unvaccinated – frankly, almost exclusively to someone who is unvaccinated,” he said.

Is the vaccine safe for kids?

The Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in children 12 and over and has proven completely safe and effective. Cooper noted, “I believe so strongly in it that all my grandkids that are of age have all been vaccinated.”

Currently, she said, there is no update on when vaccines will be approved for kids under 12, but the earliest possibility appears to be late fall or early winter. The vaccine is still being tested on younger children, and the Food and Drug Administration is awaiting adequate follow-up data.

What about pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Hispanic woman receiving coronavirus vaccine

“The research is very clear that the vaccines are safe for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and women who are thinking about getting pregnant,” Cooper said. “A committee sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control has found no contraindications.”

Dr. Croce added the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has come out in favor of vaccinations for pregnant women, breastfeeding moms and women trying to get pregnant.

Will I need a booster or repeat vaccination?

Research is underway to answer these questions. Dr. Croce and Cooper said issues that need to be addressed include whether the vaccines are durable against new variants and whether people need to get the same vaccine or if they can get a different product.

Should I wait for “full” FDA approval of the vaccines?

No. Currently, the vaccines are approved by the FDA under “Emergency Use Authorization,” which Dr. Croce said is the same as full approval in terms of safety and efficacy.

“The Emergency Use Authorization is FDA approval,” he said. “The FDA basically does the exact same thing for formal approval as they do for Emergency Use Authorization. The only real difference is the duration of the follow-up.”

Safe, effective and free

Remember, the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and free to people age 12 and over. Dr. Croce said it’s time for everyone to do their part to stay healthy and end the pandemic.

“I can’t emphasize enough how safe and effective the vaccines are,” he said. “I would implore that everyone get vaccinated. If you are vaccinated and your coworker, relative, friend, neighbor happens to not be vaccinated, please do what you can do to get them in and get their shot.”

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