From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: COVID-19 myths and misinformation: Setting the record straight

The misinformation and disinformation available on social media and other communication channels shows no sign of slowing down. At the Department of Health and Welfare, it is our responsibility and obligation to share accurate and timely information with all Idahoans. It is important to us that you have a place to turn to and a source for truth.

There is still much to learn about the coronavirus and COVID-19. New information from peer-reviewed studies accepted by the scientific community becomes available all the time. This is information from the experts that we can all trust. We are committed to sharing what we know now and will continue to share new information as it becomes available. Below is some of the false and misleading information we continue to see online, and my response to that information, based on discussions and consultations with the experts at DHW.

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FICTION: Vaccines are failing and the vaccinated are spreading the Delta variant of COVID-19.

FACT: In a phone briefing in August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director stated that a small number of vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant can have a similar viral load as infected unvaccinated people. A rumor quickly spread that the director said that the COVID-19 vaccines are failing.

The truth is that vaccinated people in Idaho are five times less likely than unvaccinated people to contract Delta, making it much harder for them to spread it to others. The vaccines are not failing – they provide excellent protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. But they are not perfect, and it is possible to become infected even after vaccination. However, people who receive the vaccine and do become infected are less likely to have serious illness resulting in hospitalization or death.

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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.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine information on VAERS, cancer, and efficacy”

From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Correcting COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation takes all of us

Every day, our public health officials, doctors, nurses, and others are responding to the ongoing pandemic and the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in our own state. They are exhausted and disheartened. And, on another front, we face the continued challenge of responding to the overabundance of misinformation and disinformation related to the virus on social media. Much of this information could be harmful.

I want to address information you might see on social media platforms that is patently false and misleading.

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FICTION: The mRNA vaccine alters your DNA.

FACT: No. (Read more about this in my DHW Voice blog from Aug. 27)

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FICTION: Public health officials, doctors, nurses, hospitals (and others in healthcare) get paid to specifically talk about the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging others to get the vaccine.

FACT: No, this is false.

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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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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Idaho is now under Crisis Standards of Care statewide, and our hospitals and healthcare systems need our help

The Department of Health and Welfare announced Thursday that Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) was being implemented statewide. The decision came after St. Luke’s Health System requested that CSC be activated.

The CSC Activation Advisory Committee met late Wednesday afternoon, and the decision was made to activate early Thursday morning. It was a thoughtful, heart-wrenching decision. No one wants this, but this is where we are. Our hospitals and healthcare systems have reached their resource limits. There is simply too much demand for care from people who are sick with COVID-19. There are not enough beds, rooms, staff or other resources for Idahoans who need hospitalization. CSC was the absolute last resort. The situation is dire in Idaho.

Although CSC was activated statewide by the Department of Health and Welfare, the hospitals will implement according to their own policies and available resources. Each hospital will make patient-care decisions based on the current situation at each hospital.

After our announcement early yesterday, the Idaho Hospital Association, St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Minidoka Memorial Hospital, and Portneuf Medical Center held a press conference in the afternoon.

Continue reading “From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Idaho is now under Crisis Standards of Care statewide, and our hospitals and healthcare systems need our help”

From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Why I chose to get vaccinated; and an update on our five-year strategic plan

As the COVID-19 vaccine was being developed last year, I felt a huge need to know if the vaccines were scientifically sound, safe, and effective. Just like you, I needed to know this before I could choose to be vaccinated and encourage my family to do the same. 

Also, because of my job as the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, I knew that if I made a recommendation, it would be to you and everyone else in Idaho. I would be asking all of you to choose to get vaccinated. I take that responsibility seriously. It is very, very important to me that the COVID-19 vaccines had data and studies with evidence to support that they are safe and effective. That is the only way that I could choose to get vaccinated myself or recommend the vaccine to you.

I had the benefit of getting real-time information from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the process to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. What I learned was:

  • There were no short cuts in developing the vaccine.
  • The mRNA technology being used has been researched and tested for many years (see my Aug. 27 blog for more information on the mRNA vaccines)
  • The clinical trials included many more volunteers than is usual for a vaccine trial.
  • The independent oversight committees that reviewed the clinical trials data, and data gathered after the trials, included independent healthcare professionals and scientists who were not going to “rubber stamp” a vaccine.
  • There is a body of evidence of vaccine safety over time.

The same robust scientific process used to approve any drug or vaccine was followed for the COVID-19 vaccine. The scientific and data-driven processes are what make drugs and treatments safe in the United States. Because I watched this process closely. I have complete trust and confidence in the vaccine. You can find more information here about the COVID-19 vaccines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/safety-of-vaccines.html

The COVID-19 vaccine data shows there is clear evidence that the vaccines are effective. In fact, these are some of the most effective vaccines ever. The vaccines are very effective against getting COVID-19 (and the Delta variant) and in protecting against hospitalization and death. 

In addition, there are now more than 200 million Americans and more than 828,200 Idahoans who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. The CDC, as well as scientists and healthcare professionals in Idaho, have been diligent about monitoring for adverse effects. While there are some common side effects (such as soreness, headache, or being tired), they are mild and pass quickly. 

More importantly, there are have been very few serious side effects. If there were wide-spread serious adverse side effects from the vaccine, I promise you I would share that information with all Idahoans so we all can make informed decisions. 

It is a personal choice to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For me, the risk of getting COVID-19 (and possibly sharing the virus with my loved ones) was a risk I was not willing to take.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a local intensive care unit (ICU) over the weekend. It was full, and almost everyone there was a COVID-19 patient. The vast majority of the COVID-19 patients in the ICU were unvaccinated. One of those patients died just before I arrived. Several more were anticipated to pass away in the next day or two. I don’t have the words to describe the suffering and sadness of the patients, their families, and the medical staff working desperately to save their lives. I still think about the people I saw, and how they were suffering. When you see the pain and heartbreak firsthand, the risk of getting COVID-19 just seems too high.

Every day I hear stories from co-workers and friends who had a friend or family member suffering, and even dying, from this relentless virus. It weighs on me, and it makes me even more motivated to encourage you to consider choosing to get vaccinated. I don’t want you or any of your loved ones to suffer the way I saw the people in the ICU suffering on my visit.  

If you haven’t been vaccinated, please consider making the choice to do so. If you have concerns, please consider discussing them with your doctor.

Continue reading “From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Why I chose to get vaccinated; and an update on our five-year strategic plan”

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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A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: School is about to start, and we can help keep our kids in the classroom by getting the COVID-19 vaccine

With today’s busy lifestyles, many Idahoans just haven’t found the time to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We know some people just can’t or won’t get the vaccine, but there are others that are looking for a convenient time or place to get vaccinated.

Now is the time.

School is about to start. Our hospitals are starting to feel the strain of more and more COVID patients. Let’s support our teachers, our kids, and our healthcare workers by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Yesterday, Gov. Brad Little held a press conference at Nampa High School to encourage Idahoans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Like the Governor, I want Idaho children to attend school in the classroom. I emphatically agree with Gov. Little when he said, “Idaho students are headed back to their classrooms starting next week. As I’ve stated from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our students need to be able to learn in their classrooms with their teachers and peers. Our main defense in ensuring the new school year is entirely in-person – free from outbreaks and quarantines – is the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Continue reading “A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: School is about to start, and we can help keep our kids in the classroom by getting the COVID-19 vaccine”

From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Some common questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death. And now that the Delta variant is causing a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, those of you who are not vaccinated yet may have more questions about the vaccines.

Here are some common questions about the vaccines that may help in your decision-making. If you have more questions, I urge you to discuss them with a healthcare provider. The information below has been compiled from trusted sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and DHW subject matter experts, and they reflect some of the things I’m hearing on social media or in my community.

I hope you’ll consider the information below because it’s more important than ever to choose to get the vaccine. It is your best protection against this wily virus.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines experimental?

While the vaccines are still under investigation, an incredible amount of data has been submitted to FDA which is expected to result in full licensure in the coming months. In the meanwhile, the FDA has given the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines emergency use authorizations (EUA), which makes needed medications and vaccinations available during public health emergencies.

An EUA does not mean vaccine safety has been compromised. The same development processes are followed, including research, clinical studies, and the analysis of side effects and adverse reactions. Instead, it speeds up manufacturing and administrative processes so it is available more quickly and can potentially save lives.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Emergency use authorization

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have all received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are considered safe and effective at preventing serious illness and even death from COVID-19.

The following is information found on the FDA’s website. It has been edited for length and clarity. Visit the FDA link to read the full Q&A and learn more about each vaccine.

What is an EUA?

An emergency use authorization is a process that helps make needed medications and vaccinations available during emergencies. An EUA does not affect vaccine safety, because it does not impact development, such as research, clinical studies, and the analysis of side effects and adverse reactions. Instead, it speeds up manufacturing and administrative processes.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines rigorously tested?

Yes. All vaccines follow the same testing processes, whether they are approved for emergency use or through a typical license. Clinical trials evaluated investigational COVID-19 vaccines in tens of thousands of study participants to generate the scientific data and other information needed to determine safety and effectiveness. These clinical trials are conducted according to the rigorous standards set forth by the FDA.

Currently, millions of Americans have safely chosen to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Q&A: Emergency use authorization”