Vaccination expectations, trends, treatments topics discussed in Facebook Live with health department

BERRIEN COUNTY — The Berrien County Health Department hosted a Facebook Live at 11:30 a.m. Friday to update residents on the current COVID-19 trends, vaccination expectations, treatments at Spectrum Health Lakeland and projections into later December.

Berrien County Health Department Communications Manager Gillian Conrad hosted BCHD’s Health Officer Nicki Britten and Spectrum Health Lakeland’s President Loren Hamel on the live feed.

“Right around Thanksgiving, there started to be a leveling off and a decrease in COVID-19 cases,” Britten said. “Testing continues to change in our environment, so the ability to gauge the change continues to be difficult.”

Britten said the BCHD had not seen the expected surge of COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving, but was cautious to be too optimistic.

“We are sitting at an average 120 new cases [of COVID-19] per day,” Britten said. “While that is a lot lower than what we were projecting before Thanksgiving, because the trend has leveled off, thankfully, but it is still 10 times higher than what we were seeing at the end of September.”

Hamel said that Spectrum Health Lakeland was being classified as officially “at capacity.”

“Our regular beds are full,” Hamel said. “We have done a lot to expand our capacity to accommodate both folks with COVID-19 and those who do not have COVID-19. We are doing our best to keep folks isolated.”

Hamel said the latest surge in COVID-19 cases beginning in the fall has seen a variation of 56 to 70 patients in the hospital with COVID-19. On Friday, he said 70 patients were in in-patient care.

“We are full. We are hanging in there, caring for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients,” Hamel said. “We can continue doing this for several more weeks, as long as things don’t grow too far beyond this.”

Hamel spoke about an out-patient treatment, given as an infusion.

The infusion is a monoclonal antibody treatment to help some of the most high-risk patients, who have tested positive for the virus, from developing severe symptoms of COVID-19.

“It is available and we are set up to do that,” Hamel said.  “We will be certainly watching that. We are collecting data around the country.”

Hamel also encouraged those who could donate blood to do so. The county’s blood banks are low on both regular blood products and blood donations from those recovered from COVID-19, who may have antibodies to help those in the hospital battling the virus.

With COVID-19 vaccine news coming out daily on the national level, Britten helped further define what the timeline looks like for Berrien County, and for who may see the vaccinations first.

“[On Thursday] there was a day one meeting of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee making recommendations to the FDA about Emergency Use Authorization use of the Pfizer vaccine,” Britten said. “It’s the first [drug manufacturer] to request this EUA. There is another manufacturer, Moderna, going through the process next week.”

Britten said the FDA Advisory Committee did vote to make the recommendation for the EUA, though there were some votes against the recommendation, primarily focused on the recommendation for 16 and 17-year-olds receiving the vaccine. The main concern was wanting to see more data provided for this age group.

“If [the EUA] is granted [Friday], then the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is the group that will finalized the recommendations of the priority groups of who gets the vaccine first, and how it gets rolled out,” Britten said.

If the Pfizer vaccine meets all approvals, it could be distributed as early as mid-next week, according to Britten.

For the Pfizer vaccine, side effects have become a topic for concern. Both Hamel and Britten said the data is “mostly encouraging.”
“The risk of serious side effects appears to be low, and that’s always good,” Hamel said. “It’s probably a little bit more than a flu shot for some people, in the frequency of body aches and chills is a little higher likelihood of occurring. But people are getting better the day after the dose.”

Britten said the flu-like side effects are an indicator of the vaccine working with the immune system.

“It’s a result of the immune system fighting that virus or responding to the vaccine received,” Britten said.

Hamel affirmed he will be receiving the vaccine when it is made available to him.

“When you compare the possible side effects of the vaccine with COVID-19, it is must better to get a vaccine than to take your risk with the disease,” he said.

Both Hamel and Britten encouraged continuing to abstain from physical gatherings, especially through the holidays, to continue wearing masks and continuing with hand hygiene practices as ways to continue fighting the virus.

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