Public Health webinar provides COVID-19 vaccine update for Massachusetts

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CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts sponsored a lunch time webinar on Friday that focused on information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

The program’s guests were Dr. Sarah Haessler, Hospital Epidemiologist at Baystate Medical Center; State Senator Eric Lesser; and Lindsey Tucker, Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Discussions included how the vaccine was created, how it works, who is eligible to receive it, and how the state will continue it’s rollout plan.

Massachusetts is currently in Phase 1 and Group 1 of Phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccination plan. Tucker said that an announcement for the Group 2 opening will be coming soon. Group 2 includes individuals age 65+, individuals with 2+ certain medical conditions (only those conditions listed as at increased risk for severe illness), and/or residents and staff of low income and affordable senior housing. Pregnant women are also included in this group.

Currently, there are no vaccines approved for children under age 16.

Johnson & Johnson has submitted their vaccine to the FDA, seeking emergency authorization for a single shot vaccine. That rollout depends on the FDA review, then on recommendations from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), then on acquisition by the federal government, then on allocation to the states.

One topic discussed was whether or not people who are vaccinated still had to follow COVID-19 safety protocols of wearing a mask, social distancing and hand washing. The answer is yes, according to Dr. Haessler.

“As the vaccination rolls out, the majority of the population still is not protected and there’s still very high rates of virus circulating on our community. And this is going to be so until we get to the point where we have enough people that are immune that the rates drop down,” said Haessler.

Another question addressed involved vaccines for other illnesses such as shingles, flu, and pneumonia. Dr. Haessler says to wait two weeks after receiving these vaccines before beginning the COVID-19 vaccine. If you are getting the COVID-9 vaccine first, wait two weeks after the second shot to begin any other vaccines. Be sure to talk with your health provider first.

The Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts offers a COVID-19 dashboard page with information on data and resources specifically for Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties, as well as across the state.

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