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Vaccine questions addressed at virtual town hall

News Photo by Crystal Nelson District Health Department No. 2 Medical Director Mark Hamed answers questions on Wednesday during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Alcona County Commission on Aging and Alcona Health Center.

LINCOLN — The public was able to get their questions about vaccines and masking answered during a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday.

The town hall, hosted by the Alcona County Commission on Aging in conjunction with Alcona Health Center, included panelists from District Health Department No. 2, Alcona Health Center, Alcona County Emergency Management, Alcona Community Schools, Solid Rock Church of God and Catholic Human Services.

Panelists emphasized the importance of wearing masks, continuing to practice good hygiene, and getting the vaccines — especially as variants become more prevalent not only in Michigan, but around the world.

Local public health officials emphasized that people cannot “catch” COVID-19 from the vaccine and that the vaccines have been proven to be around 90% to 95% effective. But those public health officials still encourage masking in the community because vaccines are not 100% effective.

Thomas Marshall, Chief Medical Officer with Alcona Health Center, said until the vaccine became available, the only tool available for the public to use was masks, social distancing, and isolation. Marshall said the introduction of the vaccines provided a new tool to fight the disease.

One of the questions submitted for the meeting was whether it is better to have natural immunity instead of getting the vaccine. Marshall voiced concern over the number of variants that have emerged recently.

“It’s critical that we move fast to get this fire put out. As long as it smolders along, we’re going to see more and more variants,” he said.

District Health Department No. 2 Administrative Health Officer Denise Bryan said people can still get vaccinated if they previously tested positive for COVID-19. Bryan said if a person received certain treatments for COVID-19, they may have to delay their vaccine for 90 days.

She said people do have some natural antibodies after having the disease. She said any questions should be directed to their physician, although employees at vaccination health clinics can answer some health questions.

Scott Rice, Alcona County emergency medical service director and emergency management coordinator, spoke about the toll the virus is having on emergency responders and the extra precautions they now have to take with personal protective equipment.

Additionally, Rice said in the beginning of the pandemic, they weren’t able to transport a lot of the patients to the emergency rooms because they were not sick enough. He said sometimes they saw patients two, three, or four times before the patient could be transported to the hospital.

“So between the preparation and the PPE and the repetitive cycle, it’s taken a big toll on the community,” he said.

Town hall attendees also wanted to know how the virus affects children.

District Health Department No. 2 Medical Director Mark Hamed said children usually have mild illness, like a runny nose or congestion, but he noted there are some children who can get pretty sick with the disease. He said those children can develop organ and tissue inflammation of the heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, and eyes.

“We’re seeing these kids don’t get very ill — they’re positive for COVID-19 — however those in the household with them, especially the high risk ones, are coming in very sick,” he said.

Panelists were also asked how religion may factor into a person’s decision to receive the vaccine.

Rev. Wayne Ramey of Solid Rock Church of God said there are no religious implications against taking the vaccine because there’s nowhere in scripture that says a person should not take a vaccine.

Mike Maturen, with Catholic Human Services, but who said he was speaking as an individual, said the Catholic Church has an issue with the way the vaccine was derived. He said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops say the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are okay, but that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was researched and produced using abortion-derived fetal cells.

“However, what they also say is that the moral implications of not getting the vaccine kind of overweigh that and so, if the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is the only vaccine available, that it is morally acceptable to get that,” Maturen said.

Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Dan O’Connor also explained procedures for when a student or staff member is presenting with symptoms.

O’Connor said staff or students are either immediately quarantined and remain in quarantine until they can be picked up or they’re sent home. He said designated employees are able to monitor those students as needed.

“The goal is to get them home and isolated at that point so they can monitor symptoms and then determine if they need to go see their provider to be able to determine the next steps,” he said.

O’Connor said the district did not have many challenging cases this fall, but they are beginning to see more students infected. Students at Alcona Community Schools are transitioning to remote learning today because of those increased infections.

He said it’s also vital for parents to screen their children before they come to school.

“We’re still having some challenges with families who are awaiting COVID tests, and family members are showing symptoms, and sending students to school, which then triggers additional quarantines or additional positives,” he said.

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