COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine information on VAERS, cancer, and efficacy

Misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is everywhere. But the fact is that the COVID-19 vaccine is the very best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness and hospitalization. It’s safe, and it’s effective. And it will help keep you from having to go to the hospital.

Here are some common questions and answers about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Are all events reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) caused by vaccination?

No. VAERS data alone cannot determine if the reported adverse event was caused by a COVID-19 vaccination.

Everyone, including patients and their healthcare providers, can report events to VAERS, even if it is not clear whether a vaccine caused the problem. Some VAERS reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.

Serious adverse events reported into VAERS are studied by vaccine safety experts who look for unusually high numbers of health problems, or a pattern of problems, after people receive a vaccine. The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) reviews VAERS reports that indicate a serious adverse event for Idaho residents.

Recently, the number of deaths reported to VAERS after COVID-19 vaccination has been misinterpreted and misreported as deaths proven to be caused by vaccination. However, reports to VAERS of adverse events after vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.

Learn more about VAERS.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Booster doses now available for some people

Late last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized and recommended booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for certain people.

Our No. 1 goal is to have as many Idahoans as possible protected from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated, and last week’s authorization of a booster allows more at-risk Americans to receive additional protection. The new recommendation adds to the number of people who may seek a third dose of vaccine; FDA and CDC authorized and recommended a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for people with compromised immune systems in August.

Who’s eligible for the Pfizer booster?

  • Adults who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and are 65 years and older, live in a long-term care facility, or are 50-64 with certain medical conditions should receive the booster.
  • Adults younger than 50 with certain medical conditions who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six month ago may choose to receive a booster.
  • Adults less than 65 years who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months ago and are at increased risk because of the work they do (such as teachers and frontline workers) or because they live in an institutional setting may choose to receive a booster.

Where can I get my Pfizer booster?

Boosters are available at pharmacies, clinics, and healthcare providers statewide. They are not available to the public at hospitals. Use the Vaccine Finder to find locations, the vaccine brands available, and walk-in or appointment details. Neither proof of eligibility nor a prescription is required, and all doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are free of charge.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Crisis Standards of Care

Idaho activated Crisis Standards of Care for the entire state on Thursday, Sept. 16.

What are crisis standards of care?

Crisis standards of care are guidelines that help healthcare providers and healthcare systems decide how to deliver the best care possible under the extraordinary circumstances of a disaster or a public health emergency.

The goal of crisis standards of care is to save as many lives as possible. They guide decisions made by hospitals about how to allocate scarce resources, such as hospital beds, medications, or ventilators.

How would crisis standards of care affect me and my care?

When crisis standards of care are in effect, people who need medical care may experience care that is different from what they expect.

For example, patients admitted to a hospital may find there are no hospital beds or that beds have been set up in other rooms or hallways. In some extreme circumstances, ventilator or intensive care unit beds may need to be used for those who are most likely to survive, while patients who are not likely to survive may not be able to receive one.

The goal in all cases is to provide the best medical care possible with the resources that are available and to save the greatest number of lives.

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COVID-19 Q&A: The Delta variant is more contagious

What is the Delta variant and what should I know about it?

The COVID-19 virus Delta variant has mutations, or changes, from the original virus strain. The Delta variant is more contagious and spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains. Areas where many people are not vaccinated have more cases of COVID-19, and we are in a race against time to vaccinate more people before new variants form.

Higher numbers of vaccinated people lower the chance for the virus to spread and help prevent new variants. Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and work well against the Delta variant. Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community.

Should vaccinated people worry they are spreading the virus?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection, they are not perfect. There will be vaccine breakthrough infections. However, breakthrough infections represent a very small number of cases around the country, and less than 1 percent of cases in Idaho. In addition, infections among vaccinated people are much less likely to result in serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is around 3.5-fold lower than if you had not gotten vaccinated, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8-fold lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is around 25-fold lower.

There is evidence that some vaccinated people can spread the virus if they get infected with the Delta variant; that is why it is important that in areas of substantial and high transmission, vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoors to prevent spread and protect themselves and others.

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Help save a life on International Overdose Awareness Day: Naloxone is available for free for Idaho organizations

To combat the ever-growing opioid epidemic in Idaho, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has made it easy for organizations in Idaho to request free naloxone. Naloxone, the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, saves lives when it’s given quickly because it blocks the effects of opioids on the brain.

The shelf-life for naloxone is three years. Often referred to by the nasal spray brand name, Narcan, it must be administered by someone other than the individual experiencing the overdose, making it important for friends, family, and first responders to carry it.

Someone who administers naloxone to a person who appears to be experiencing an opioid overdose is legally protected by Idaho’s Good Samaritan Law. This law, along with recent statute changes, encourages Idahoans to administer naloxone and leave any extra doses with family and friends. Naloxone will not harm someone who does not have opioids in their system; it is recommended to give a dose of naloxone to anyone experiencing the signs and symptoms of an overdose. These include blue lips or fingertips, limpness, unresponsiveness, slow or irregular heartbeat, and small pupils.

Community organizations such as libraries, schools, bars, and restaurants, among others, are encouraged to have a supply of naloxone because it reduces the risk of death when someone is overdosing. Reversing an overdose with naloxone can save a life and help connect people to treatment.

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A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The Pfizer vaccine is fully licensed, but how does this mRNA vaccine actually work?

On Monday, Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as fully licensed Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older. Those 12 to 15 years of age can continue to get the vaccine under the current emergency use authorization.

There continues to be misinformation circulating on social media and other communication channels about how the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine actually works. I’d like to set the record straight:

  • Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine? No.
  • Can you become infertile from the vaccine? No.
  • And, finally, does it alter your DNA? No.

I would like to share with you how an mRNA vaccine works, and why it does not impact your DNA.

First, I’d like to talk about how your immune system works. Your immune system attacks things that look foreign to it. When a germ enters your body, and the immune cells don’t recognize it, your body goes on the attack.

However, building up a system to defeat a germ such as the COVID-19 virus takes time. Your immune system needs to figure out what part of the virus to attack. When your immune system figures it out, it increases the production of what it needs to attack the virus. That takes time, but the virus hasn’t slowed down. As your system is figuring out how to fight off the virus, the virus is infecting your cells and expanding quickly in your body.

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Harmful algal blooms in recreational water: When in doubt, stay out!

Most of the year, Idaho’s lakes and reservoirs are safe to enjoy. But when water temperatures increase, as they typically do in July and August, and the right type of nutrients are available, some bodies of water can produce blooms of harmful bacteria that can be dangerous for humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. Those blooms are called cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms, or HABs for short. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is currently listing 12 bodies of water with health advisories in Idaho.

What causes harmful algal blooms?

The blooms are caused by bacteria that can produce toxins. The blooms are also referred to as cyanobacterial blooms. When weather conditions are calm and there is an increase in water temperature and nutrients, bacteria can rapidly increase and produce a bloom. Blooms can occur at any time, but they most often occur in late summer or early fall.

What do these blooms look like?

They can be blue, bright green, brown, or red and may look like paint or anti-freeze floating on the water. As the bloom develops, it may look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of lakes and ponds.

What are the symptoms of an exposure to a bloom?

The most common health effects are skin and eye irritation. Other more severe effects can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness and tingling in lips, fingers, and toes
Continue reading “Harmful algal blooms in recreational water: When in doubt, stay out!”

So-called “wellness” vapes pose a health risk

Although some brands call themselves a “mist,” “personal diffuser,” or “aromatherapy stick,” make no mistake, these products are actually a type of vaping device.

So-called “wellness” vapes marketed by the tobacco industry to youth and young adults claim to include ingredients such as vitamins, essential oils, and melatonin to promote sleep and relaxation. The truth is these vaping devices are not federally regulated, so it is unclear what ingredients they really contain.

Inhaling the chemicals contained in any type of vaping device, whether they contain nicotine or are nicotine-free, can damage lung tissue. When vaping, the user can inhale harmful metal particles and chemicals. Vaping also makes it harder to breathe and fight off respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19.

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COVID-19: An explanation of different data on Idaho and CDC dashboards for updated mask guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance last week for people to wear masks indoors in public areas, regardless of vaccination status, where community spread is substantial or high. The CDC’s map uses different measures to determine the rate of transmission than measures the Idaho’s COVID-19 Dashboard depicts. Idaho’s dashboard is maintained by the Division of Public Health in the Department of Health and Welfare.

We strongly encourage everyone to follow the CDC guidance and wear a mask indoors in public areas where the rate of transmission is substantial or high. The only way we’ll beat the virus that causes COVID-19 is by limiting its ability to spread and mutate yet again into another variant of public health concern. We’re in a race against the virus, and vaccination is still the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19. But the Delta variant is a worthy foe and vaccination rates aren’t high enough to keep it in check. So wearing a mask is important again.

But we also understand how confusing it is that the data on the CDC’s site and on Idaho’s dashboard don’t match, and we’d like to explain why that is.

The CDC is using case rates or molecular testing percent positivity to calculate the community rate of COVID-19 transmission. Here are explanations for why the data are different on both sites.

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Smoky air is likely to be with us through summer and into fall. Here’s what you need to know.

Wildfire smoke can cause irritating symptoms for healthy people and more serious health issues for people with respiratory issues and heart and lung disease. It’s important to know how to protect yourself and your family from smoky air whenever possible.

Who is most at risk for harmful effects of smoke?

Infants and young children suffer more from smoke because they breathe more air than adults do for their body size. Older adults and people with lung and heart conditions also are especially sensitive to smoke in the air. Even low levels of smoke can cause breathing problems for sensitive groups that have asthma, COPD, and other chronic lung diseases. And for people with chronic heart conditions, smoky air can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Smoke can also increase risk of premature birth in pregnant women.

When should we become concerned about the symptoms of smoke exposure? 

Common effects of smoke exposure include irritated eyes, nose, and throat. However, if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, headaches, fatigue, or a combination of those symptoms and they become severe, you should call your doctor immediately.

Continue reading “Smoky air is likely to be with us through summer and into fall. Here’s what you need to know.”