Fort Jackson vs. COVID: ‘ … We finally have a tool in our toolkit’

Fort Jackson Public Affairs

COLUMBIA — Fort Jackson has been playing defense against COVID-19 since March, but it now has taken the offensive with a new tool – a vaccine, said the leader of Moncrief Army Health Clinic. Fort Jackson began vaccinations Jan. 11. Col. Tara Hall said during a virtual town hall that “up to this point we have basically been in a defensive posture. We have spent all of our time discussing how to prevent, we’ve been in this prevent defense. Now it’s time we finally have a tool in our toolkit that allows us to go on the offense while still playing defense.” Hall likened the battle against COVID-19 to Swiss cheese in that each protective measure on their own is not very effective, but the “layering of one top of the other provides less and less an opportunity” for the virus to get through. The vaccine gives us “a more holistic way to prevent the continued transmission of this virus,” she added. She tried to allay any fears of the vaccine by talking about how it is produced and how it works inside the body. When the Federal Drug Administration works to allow a vaccine it uses criteria during three phases. In the first phase testing is done with 20-100 volunteers to find out “is it safe, is it more harm than good, does it work, does it prevent a person from getting sick and three, does it have any serious side effects?” Hall added. The second phase of testing includes several hundred volunteers to determine what the most common side effects are and how a volunteer’s immune system is reacting to the vaccine. In the third phase, hundreds of thousands of volunteers are tested to see how people who get and don’t get the vaccine compare; is the vaccine safe, is it effective, and what the most common side effects are. Operation Warp Speed, the nation’s response to the virus, was able to collapse a 73-month long process into 14 months. The process has been wildly successful, Hall said. “Why has it been successful? Because it has been a whole of government approach,” she added. Vaccine creation usually takes a long time because it “sits on the sidelines” waiting months to get funded. “Here we have the entire government, the whole U.S. government, leveraging all of its manufacturing, all of the resources we have in the country to put towards getting a vaccine.” “We didn’t skip any phases, we still went through all clinical trials,” she added. “We just were able to do it because we had all the resources, everything rolling in the same direction and able to get to the end state much faster.” “The vaccine is safe,” Hall said unequivocally. “Vaccines do not get FDA emergency use approval without being proven to be safe through the Phase 3 clinical trials. This is a very safe vaccine and more over is a very effective vaccine.” Fort Jackson has the Pfizer vaccine that has been proven to be 95 percent effective with the second dose. The only other vaccine with that level of success on the market today is the Polio vaccine, Hall added. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain eggs, preservatives or latex, however those allergic to poly ethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate are advised not to get the vaccine at this time. It does not harm the body or alter a person’s DNA, she added, but uses mRNA to provide instructions to cells to produce a “spike protein” unique to the virus to cause the body to build up immunity. It “allows the body to rapidly build up a response when it is exposed.” It is not a “live virus vaccine, it doesn’t give you COVID. … It is not infectious in any way,” Hall concluded. “It is a safe and very effective vaccine.” The vaccine is voluntary and many who have hesitated believe it is safe after reading research about it; visiting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website; reading FDA guidelines; and reading up about the vaccine. “I encourage everybody to do the research,” she said, “and get all the information you can to make an informed decision.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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