Weather slows vaccinations as COVID cases and hospitalizations fall in the Fort Smith area

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 259 views 

This week’s unusually extreme winter weather may have stopped many from getting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but there is no need to worry, according to Rep. Dr. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the second dose at a 21 day interval for the Pfizer vaccine and a 28 day interval for the Moderna vaccine, but it is acceptable to get the second dose of either vaccine within 42 days.

“So, there’s a relatively large window of time to get the second vaccine. People shouldn’t worry if they miss their second dose this week due to the weather. They can get it next week after the snow melts,” said Johnson, who is also the medical director for Fort Smith EMS and Southwest EMS and an emergency room physician.

The important thing is to get the two doses. The two-shot vaccinations aim for maximum benefit with the first dose priming the immunological memory and the second solidifying it, said Thomas Denny, chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute in a Scientific American article.

“One dose of the Pfizer vaccine can reduce the average person’s risk of getting a symptomatic infection by about 50%, and one dose of the Moderna shot can do so by about 80%. Two doses of either vaccine lowers the risk by about 95 percent,” the article stated.

Johnson said though he is sure this week’s snow will slow the administration of the vaccine in the area, it will not slow production of the vaccine. This means there will be more vaccine available once the weather improves and people are again able to get out and get vaccinated.

“We’ll have the supply we couldn’t give this week due to weather, and we’ll still get a shipment next week. Whatever the delay from the snow, we’ll be able to get caught up when the roads clear and people are able to get out again,” Johnson said.

Those vaccines are key. The Fort Smith area, as well as the rest of the state, began seeing a decline in active COVID cases. Confirmed and probable cases of the viruses rose by only 177 Tuesday (Feb. 16) to 313,525 total cases of the virus in the state since March 2020. There are 9,104 total active cases in the state, down 1,390 since Monday. Total deaths are 5,287 up 12.

In Sebastian County, there were 378 total active cases Tuesday, 257 of which are confirmed and 121 are probable. There have been 14,277 total cumulative cases and 255 total virus related deaths.

Johnson said Mercy Fort Smith and Baptist Health-Fort Smith are seeing lower numbers in COVID-related hospitalizations. There were 42 total in both hospitals Tuesday with 16 in the intensive care units.

He said historically, pandemics have had a “tri-phasic wave, with peaks in the leading spring, the winter, and the following spring.” However, this is the first time a vaccine has been developed in the middle of a pandemic, which should keep the third part of the wave, the one set to hit this spring, at bay, Johnson said.

“I know people have been critical at times of the vaccine roll out, but it truly is amazing that we have developed an effective vaccine this quickly. I believe we will have enough people vaccinated in the coming months to avoid a third wave,” Johnson said.

He, however, said he has been wrong before, and people need to remain diligent in their precautions.

“Continuing to mask and distance when possible is still important until we can get the majority of people vaccinated and we’re sure we’re not going to see another spike in cases. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we may be starting to see light on the horizon,” Johnson said.

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