Earlier this week, community members heard firsthand accounts from local front-line health care leaders who were among the first El Pasoans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Host Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A., president of TTUHSC El Paso and dean of the Foster School of Medicine, updated the public on the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also welcomed four panelists who shared their experience receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and answered commonly asked questions about the disease.
The discussion – Tech Table Talk, a new community-based discussion series from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso – was livestreamed on the university’s Facebook page, and a recording is now available for viewing online.
Panelists included Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine; Glenn Fennelly, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso; Sireesha Y. Reddy, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso; and Manny Santa Cruz, D.N.P., R.N., M.B.A., assistant dean at the Hunt School of Nursing.
Dr. Santa Cruz said the “needle stick” of the vaccine was painless, and his side effects were mild.
“My left arm was sore for 24 hours, with minimal fever that was resolved with one dose of Tylenol,” Dr. Santa Cruz said. He was scheduled to get the second dose of the vaccine on Jan. 26. “The process was seamless and painless. Don’t just take the vaccine for yourself, but for your family, friends and colleagues. You need to protect them, too. We all want a semblance of normalcy; this is just the initial step. Please continue to be safe and wear your masks.”
TTUHSC El Paso has also worked to ensure members of the local dental community have received the vaccine. These dentists will be part of the faculty at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
“Dentists are essential health care providers and have provided care throughout this pandemic,” Dr. Black said. “Despite the virus, there’s been almost no transmission of infection between American dentists and their patients. This is in large part due to strict infection control in dental offices. Dentists in the U.S. have seen patients through many different pandemics, starting with AIDS, SARS, MERS and H1N1. Through it all, dental offices have delivered front-line dental health care and kept themselves and their patients safe. It was great to see the Hunt School of Dental Medicine ‘family’ of dental practices get an extra level of protection here at TTUHSC El Paso.”
In addition to speaking about their own experiences receiving the vaccine, the panelists offered insight on how the vaccine can protect at-risk patients.
Gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Reddy pointed out that “women who are pregnant and have COVID-19 infection are considered higher risk for severe outcomes.” She recommends that pregnant women discuss the vaccine with their health care providers to help make an informed decision about its benefits. Pregnant women are part of the State of Texas’ Phase 1B priority group currently eligible to receive the vaccine.
The panel also discussed questions parents may have about their children receiving the vaccine. To date, the overwhelming majority of severe COVID-19 cases and deaths have been in adults. Pediatrician Dr. Fennelly said most children experience only minimal symptoms and mild disease and have accounted for only 1.8% of hospitalizations and 0.07% of all deaths to date.
However, children may transmit the virus to parents, elderly and vulnerable grandparents, teachers or day care providers. Additionally, there have been 180 cumulative COVID-19 deaths in children throughout the U.S. to date. That number is on track to exceed the highest number of deaths from seasonal influenza in children ever reported, according to Dr. Fennelly.
“Thus, there’s a strong rationale to immunize children against COVID-19, if only to optimize herd immunity and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to more vulnerable adults,” Dr. Fennelly said. “Yet before doing so, more research is needed to make sure a COVID-19 vaccine will be safe for kids and teens. Because severe disease is rare in children, the endpoints for ‘benefit’ in these studies will not be protection against severe COVID-19, but rather protection against viral shedding (infected persons releasing virus that may infect others).”
Dr. Fennelly added that vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna have begun studies on the safety of their vaccines in children as young as 12. Moderna is planning studies in even younger children.
“In time, I would not only feel it’s safe, but feel it’s imperative to get my child immunized,” Dr. Fennelly said. “This is ultimately going to be the best way to get our kids back to school safely and control this pandemic.”
Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for emergency use authorization by the FDA and have been distributed in El Paso to people in Phase 1, Groups A and B, which include first responders, health care personnel, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, people 65 years of age and older, and people with chronic medical conditions that put them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19.