Feb. 9 COVID-19 Community Update: Vaccines and variants

By Amir St. Clair, associate vice president and executive director of COVID-19 response and recovery | Feb. 9, 2021

View the Feb. 4 COVID-19 town hall, the latest in an ongoing series of virtual Emory community conversations providing updates and information about vaccines.

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Emory Forward

With more COVID-19 vaccines now in development — and new virus variants on the rise — interest in vaccinations remains high, with many of us left wondering where and how soon we can get one.

We understand the concern. As everyone waits for the nation’s supply of COVID vaccines to catch up with public demand, there are sure to be some anxious moments. 

That’s why Emory is hosting a series of bi-monthly vaccine town halls (see video above) — a virtual forum that brings together experts to answer your questions, discuss the latest in vaccine development and distribution, and share insights to keep you informed and engaged.

As you may know, Emory Healthcare has taken a lead role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines here in Georgia, in accordance with state guidelines. For last week’s town hall, we invited Emory physicians Nicole M. Franks and Nadine Rouphael, along with Alan Anderson, assistant vice president of university partnerships, to discuss vaccine distribution. 

Rouphael emphasized that these vaccines are safe, presenting promising efficacy and rare adverse allergic reactions. The most common side effect — which indicates your immune system is working — is some arm pain, but that’s different for each patient, Franks noted.

Vaccine distribution

Emory vaccines are now being distributed by appointment — based on eligibility and availability — through a centralized clinic at Northlake Mall and decentralized mobile clinics rotated among Emory hospital campuses.

To date, much of our success with Emory’s vaccine distribution has risen from coordinated teamwork — from our frontline health care workers and the leadership of Emory’s vaccine planning group to the scores of volunteers who’ve given their time to help at our vaccine clinics, as well as those who’ve volunteered in vaccine trials.

I want to acknowledge everyone who’s made this happen — it’s been a phenomenal community effort. To learn more about volunteering at Emory’s vaccine clinics, visit here.

While we’re pleased so many are eager to receive the vaccine, we ask for your patience. Our distribution must follow the rollout plan set by the state, which remains in phase 1A+. Once the state moves to phase 1B — and supplies are available — Emory community members eligible to receive the vaccine will receive an email notification via our HOME system. But if you have access now through other sources, please don’t wait — take the opportunity. 

Emory is also working to help increase vaccination rates across Atlanta. With evidence that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Latinx and African American communities, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center has launched a steering committee to help provide quality health information through targeted community outreach. 

This includes hundreds of webinars and panel discussions with civic and community organizations, elected officials and the business community. A mobile health messaging campaign has sent over 1 million text messages to nearly 125,000 people, recorded videos shared via social media, launched a health equity dashboard, and sponsored community events to help share health information and build trust.

Virus variants and face masks: To double up, or not?

Recently, we’ve been hearing about the emergence of new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, with at least three now detected here in the U.S. Some are highly transmittable and spreading rapidly; evidence suggests they may also result in more severe symptoms.

While that may sound scary, we know this is what viruses do — they mutate. We see the same thing happen with influenza strains almost every year. But of course, these viral strains can carry serious health consequences, so a COVID vaccine is still highly recommended.

News of these variants has also sparked questions: Does one face mask offer adequate protection? Should we be doubling up?

To help answer these questions, it’s important to remember that overall effectiveness depends primarily on the mask quality and its fit.  If you are wearing a good-quality standard surgical mask or a well-fitting, breathable cloth mask — with two or more layers of tightly woven fabric covering both your nose and mouth — Emory experts say you are taking the right preventive measures.

The bottom line is this: Everybody should be wearing a mask.

Masks remain one of our best weapons in the fight against COVID transmission, offering protection to yourself and others. Even if you’ve already received a vaccine, you need to still wear a mask, and continue practicing physical distancing and frequent handwashing.

Our motivation? It’s simple.

The more responsibility everyone takes today in helping drive down COVID transmission, the faster all of our lives can return to normal.