Hispanic Liaison holds online booster, kids’ vaccine Q&A for Chatham’s Spanish speakers

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SILER CITY — The Hispanic Liaison hosted an online chat last Saturday to provide free information about children’s vaccines and boosters to the Spanish-speaking community.

Broadcast via Facebook Live, the video is available on the Liaison’s Facebook page. Will Mendoza, the Liaison’s COVID-19 Project Manager, moderated the chat, posing questions both from and on behalf of Chatham’s Spanish speakers to two local health experts: UNC’s Dr. Michael Herce and the Chatham Public Health Department’s Nellie Benitez.

That chat’s first panelist, Nellie Benitez, has worked with the CCPHD for 21 years; since the inception of COVID-19, she has worked to educate and inform local Latino families about how they can protect themselves against COVID-19. The second panelist, Dr. Michael Herce, is an assistant professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Here’s a translated and edited transcript of what each had to say during Saturday’s conversation:

On booster shots

What vaccines are being offered in Chatham, and do people have the ability to choose the booster they want?

BENITEZ: Right now all vaccines are available in the county. … We also have our clinic at the health department, which offers the Moderna boosters on Wednesdays and Fridays, but the CDC just issued a statement [last week] indicating that the preference would be to get Moderna or Pfizer over Johnson & Johnson. This is because there is some very limited data that some people may have a blood-clotting reaction to the Johnson & Johnson injection. But if there is nothing else, then you can take the Johnson & Johnson.

Do these vaccines, these boosters, also help fight against the new COVID mutations?

HERCE: We are still learning about the newest COVID variant Omicron. What we already know is that it’s much more transmissible than previous COVID variants and at least twice as transmissible as the Delta variant … This variant can infect people who have had COVID-19 in the past.

The good news is that two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine still offer very good protection against severe disease from Omicron and the other COVID variants, and based on the information we’re seeing from places where Omicron’s already widespread, like England, getting a booster shot with Pfizer or Moderna actually offers the best protection against Omicron. From the early studies we have, we’re seeing that people who received a booster shot doubled their level of protection against an Omicron infection. So everyone 16 years and older should get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.

Is there any risk or benefit to mixing vaccines, or is it preferable to be boosted with the same type of vaccine as my second dose?

HERCE: … If someone initially received Johnson & Johnson, they can receive their booster vaccine starting two months later with any vaccine. If they initially received the Pfizer or Moderna, they can receive a booster shot six months after they received their second dose. If someone’s 16 or 17 years old, he or she should receive a Pfizer booster shot, but if they are 18 years old or older — meaning an adult — that person can choose any vaccine they want as their booster shot.

There’s no risk to mixing vaccines for your booster, and in fact there may be a benefit to mixing vaccines if you initially received the Johnson & Johnson. That is, you may receive a higher increase in protection with a different vaccine than Johnson & Johnson. So, I usually tell my patients that if they originally got the Pfizer or Moderna and were happy with them, then they should get the same one for their booster, and if you initially got Johnson & Johnson, choose Pfizer or Moderna depending on which would be quicker and more convenient to receive in your area.

I’m going to take my booster, but are there any side effects? What if I don’t react well to the vaccine?

HERCE: … For Pfizer and Moderna, [booster] side effects may actually occur less frequently than after the second injection. Most side effects from the booster injection are mild. ... The most common ones are injection site pain, headache, muscle pain, but those typically last only a few hours. If it causes discomfort, you can take an anti-inflammatory [pill] like ibuprofen or a medication like Tylenol.

How long will someone be protected after getting the booster?

HERCE: We still don’t really know exactly how long the protection from a booster shot lasts. … At this time, we believe that protection against symptomatic COVID-19 begins to decrease after about six months after the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, and about two months after the Johnson & Johnson injection. So, it is very important that we receive a booster vaccine to increase the level of antibodies to prevent a case of symptomatic COVID and to lower the risk of COVID-19 infection.

To close the subject a little bit about the reinforcements ... if I have tested positive for COVID, I have it and can’t get the booster, is there any treatment?

HERCE: Yes, there is treatment. If you test positive for COVID and you have a medical condition that puts you at risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, you can get treatment for COVID regardless of your vaccination status. This treatment is called monoclonal antibody therapy, and it’s based on antibodies that are part of our natural defenses against infection. These monoclonal antibodies are most effective when given as soon as possible after symptoms develop, and usually within five to seven days after the onset of symptoms.

Currently, monoclonal antibody therapy is available for people over 12 years of age who have a positive COVID test result and who have a medical risk factor for having COVID-19, such as being over 65 years of age, having a weak immune system, being obese or having diabetes. In these cases, treatment is available through most health systems here in our area and in the county, including through UNC Health’s COVID helpline, 888-850-2684.

What if I lost my vaccine card? How do I go about getting my booster?

BENITEZ: If you lost the card, you can call the health department or the place where you received the vaccine. They have to register the dates you got the vaccine because when you go for the booster, they’re going to ask you for those dates to confirm that it’s been six months since you got the vaccine. But there’s also no problem if you’re already at the place where you’re going to get boosted. There’s a number that they have. Everyone who is vaccinated registers with the state and the state looks for your name and your date of birth and gives confirmation for these two dates to the people who are going to give you the booster, but it’s important that you go back to the place where you were vaccinated and ask for a card. That happened to me. It can happen to all of us. I lost it and I had to go to the health department and they gave me my card again and a piece of paper, so I was given two.

On pediatric vaccines

We’re vaccinating children under 12 years of age, but is it the same vaccine that’s given to adults, and what are the requirements to vaccinate our children?

BENITEZ: Yes, it’s the same, but the dose is smaller due to the immaturity of their immune systems. This dose went through clinical trials with children of this age to ensure that it’s safe and effective. Children must be at least 5 years old and need a parent or legal guardian to consent when receiving the vaccine. We have it at the clinic ... on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Siler City clinic. ... The person who takes the minor must be 18 years of age and must be present and give his or her consent for the patient. This person’s signature is required. Documentation is not required, but they are required to be present and to consent.

Speaking about vaccines for children under 12, is there any risk for children to receive this vaccine now?

HERCE: The COVID-19 vaccines are very safe for children. For example, no serious vaccine-related adverse events were observed in the main trial, which looked at the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine in more than 1,500 children 5 to 11 years of age. The most common side effect identified in this study was mild pain at the injection site in approximately 60% of children after the first and second injection, and there’s no evidence that COVID vaccines cause fertility problems in those studies.

Although less frequent in children than in adults, COVID-19 can have serious consequences in children, including causing serious illness or “long COVID.” It is important to note that as of October of this year, there were more than 8,000 COVID-19-related hospitalizations in children ages 5 to 11 and nearly 100 deaths. As a result, COVID-19, unfortunately, ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death in children in the United States. ... On a personal note, these reasons also motivated me to vaccinate my 8-year-old daughter.

If children experience any discomfort after the vaccine, after they get their dose of Pfizer, what should parents do? Is there any medication or anything that parents can give them?

HERCE: … In such cases, it’s important to reassure the child that these are common side effects that’ll usually go away within a few hours. If the pain at the injection site causes more than mild discomfort, pain medication such as Paracetamol or Propranolol can be given after the injection. But if there are any symptoms of concern after the injection, parents can always contact the vaccine provider to ask them about the symptoms and ask for advice on how to manage them.

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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