More than 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Arizonans since December and caseloads have declined for the past 10 weeks, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
But now is not the time for complacency, health officials warn.
Dr. Omar Gonzalez, an epidemiologist with Dignity Health, is urging Arizonans who haven’t yet been vaccinated to do so now.
“We all are hoping deep down in our hearts,” Gonzalez said.
Those 16 years and older now are eligible to receive the vaccine in Arizona.
“The sooner we get the vaccine for the whole population, the better,” he said.
And while some who have received their second shot report nausea, fever, body aches, chills and other unpleasant side effects, Gonzalez says that these issues are short lived.
“Yes, it’s true that many people experience higher side effects at the second dose, however those side effects are not severe” and can be treated with over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen, Gonzalez said. “Drink plenty of fluids. It lasts for a very short period of time.
“When people face a natural infection, definitely those symptoms are far worse and more dangerous and deadly.”
Gonzalez practices what he preaches and has received both doses of the vaccine.
“That day, I was on call so I did my dose in the morning. Two hours later, I took my Tylenol/ibuprofen,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t want to feel ill. Essentially it worked. I had the injection-site pain but it was really mild and nothing that kept me away from work.”
For those who still fear the vaccine, Gonzalez said he and others have worked hard to educate the public about the safety and effectiveness of it.
“The fact that it was fast-tracked, that’s why people become a little bit anxious about it, but it followed all the scientific method,” Gonzalez said. “All the Phase 1, 2 and 3 trials were conducted and completed.”
The data was vetted by FDA and all of its entities, including the Advisory Committee for Immunization, according to Gonzalez. He also said the Arizona Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccine Safety and Efficacy conducted an independent evaluation of the three vaccines that are available in Arizona.
“We reviewed all the data—we reviewed the clinical trial essentially—and we concluded that it is a safe vaccine and a vaccine that is efficacious,” he said. “It is very important to get this vaccine.”
Two variants of COVID-19 have popped up in Arizona, causing some to question if a different vaccine will be necessary at some point. Gonzalez said 62 cases of the UK variant, B117, have been reported in Arizona. Four cases of the Brazilian strain also have been reported.
“No one seems to know with certainty, 100 percent,” he said regarding whether another vaccine might need to be developed. “What I can tell you is that the immunity that we get from this vaccine also wakes up what we call the T-cell immunity, which can persist for months and months if not for years. There is a thought that it may not be necessary (to have) more vaccinations but we still don’t know.”
In the meantime, health officials want to vaccinate as many people as possible. Avoiding another surge in COVID-19 is crucial because “with every surge that we have, there’s a chance to introduce more variants,” according to Gonzalez.
“On top of that, the different pharmaceutical companies that are currently working with the vaccines are also working with a plan just in case there is an evolving variant that can damage the vaccine’s efficacy. It’s a work in progress,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that to achieve herd immunity, 70 percent of the population must develop an antibody response.
“So far, in Arizona, we haven’t reached that high level of people being infected naturally. That’s why we need the vaccine,” he said.
At press time, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 16,898 Arizonans had died from COVID-19 among 838,558 cases. More than 8.4 million COVID-19 tests have been administered in the state.