Assembly Member Mike Gipson (Courtesy photo)

Last week, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson organized a COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall via Zoom. Assemblymember Gipson gathered medical professionals to discuss significant details about the vaccine, as well as receive questions from online viewers—completely free for the general public.

Key discussion topics were, the urgency for LA County to get vaccinated, the common side effects from the vaccine, the vaccine’s distribution process, and if the vaccine prevents people contracting the virus.

Assemblymember Mike Gipson introduced CEO of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, Dr. Elaine Batchlor, MD, MPH, and Vice President of Population Health at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH), Dr. Jorge Reyno, MD, whom both shared new data regarding pandemic and their recommendations on getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

After presentations, Dr. Batchlor and Dr. Reyno remained online with Assemblymember Gipson, and Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and World Health Organization—COVID-19 Ethics Committee Member, Dr. Naman Shah for questions from online viewers.

The initial question is, why should you get the COVID-19 vaccine? “Our communities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. We are getting infected, getting hospitalized, and dying 2 to 3 times the rate of other communities. This [vaccine] is the way to protect ourselves, our community and to end the pandemic. If we don’t get vaccinated, we won’t end the pandemic. All this scientific ingenuity and research will be for nothing if we don’t get vaccinated. It’s not the vaccine that’s going to end the pandemic, it’s vaccinations” said Dr. Elaine Batchlor, MD, MPH.

Dr. Shah, MD, PhD stated, “We did a survey of healthcare workers across Los Angeles County, and we had over 7000 healthcare workers respond [to this survey]. Despite what you might have read in the media, 97% of physicians who responded to the survey planned on immediately receiving the vaccine. These are people who are well-trained to understand the vaccine, assess the vaccine, and recognize its benefits—they want to get vaccinated. That to me, is a marker of what should be everyone else’s behavior and model.”

Most people are willing to take the vaccine; however, there still remains some pessimistic projections surrounding the vaccine’s side effects.

Since the week of December 14, 2020; in LA County alone, nearly 150,000 people have received COVID-19 vaccinations. Dr. Shah stated, “There is incredible demand, they will have 60 appointment slots and 300 people will show up and with lines around the corner, but even though we located these vaccination sites in South LA, the people who are lining up are from Malibu, from Palisades, from West LA. Everyone is rushing to South LA to get the vaccine, but what we want are the citizens and healthcare workers in South LA to have priority” Shah continued, “We have overall distributed about more than 40% of the vaccine we have been allocated. We’d like to do better we need more sites administer the vaccine in order to get there.”

As of Jan. 2, 2021, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) has seen a total 3579 COVID-19 cases; with nearly 80% Hispanic or Latinx, 16% African American, and 6% as Other. They have been innovative in making accommodations for COVID-19 patients as well as patients who need medical attention outside COVID-19 related concerns. MLKCH expanded their facility, providing outside medical tents for respiratory patients, and adapting telehealth capacity and a bi-lingual AI ChatBot named MIA.

(Courtesy photo)

Dr. Jorge Reyno, MD stated, “More recently some of the initiatives are vaccinating our healthcare staff. We have been very aggressive and successful in that. We have also established a process to provide [COVID-19] patients that with the means of helping them monitor their health.”

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are the only two vaccines on the market marked as FDA—approved. Both injections require two interval shots, Pfizer/BioNTech doses are taken 21 days apart while Moderna interval is 28 days apart.

Nevertheless, each of this vaccine contains mRNA that manipulates human cells to produce our own version of what is called a “spike protein.” Production of the spike inside our cells starts the process of protective antibody and T cell production. Basically, this production of protective cells is protecting you from getting infected by coronavirus.

Dr. Batchlor stated, “One of the things we need people to understand is that there are some side effects associated with these vaccines. It’s mostly due to the vaccine stimulating an immune response, which is exactly what you would want to have for the vaccine to work.” Batchlor recalled, “Side effects are more common after the second dose. The side effects can include a mild fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. But you should not be concerned by these side effects. They are limited and they indicate that the vaccine is doing exactly what it should be doing, which is stimulating your immune system and preparing you for the day you encounter the COVID-19 virus.”

In the end, will the COVID-19 vaccine prevent you from being infected by the virus? “So, 95% effective does not mean 100% effective. It’s better than what we’ve hoped, but it means that there is still a small chance that you could get COVID-19. We also don’t know yet whether the vaccine is effective at preventing transmission. We believe it will be, but we are not sure about that yet. So even people who have been vaccinated will need to continue to follow the public health recommendations” said Dr. Batchlor.

Overall, no vaccine is 100% effective, and the makers of the coronavirus vaccine are still evaluating whether the vaccine protects against all infections, or just cases with symptoms. With both vaccines providing about a 95% protection in clinical trials—a small number of people may still catch the virus and get sick. However, in the grand scheme of things, medical professionals are getting the vaccinated while assuring the efficacy rate of Covid-19 cases will go down as more people get vaccinated varying on their immune system.