Dennis Joyner mug

Dennis Joyner

UNION COUNTY — U.S. based biotechnology companies Moderna and Pfizer have announced the vaccines they’ve developed have more than a 90% effective rate, according to a USA Today report.

Moderna announced on Monday (Nov. 16) that their vaccine has an effectiveness rate of 94.5%, based on early results from a continuous study, according to the New York Times.

Pfiser and their German-based partner BioNTech shared last week their vaccine has an effectiveness rate of more than 90% based on preliminary data.

Cases of coronavirus continue to increase. According to the New York Times, the virus has infected more than 53 million people worldwide and is responsible for 1.2 million deaths worldwide. In the U.S., there have been roughly 11 million cases and more than 246,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

When can residents of Union County expect to see an effective vaccine become available in the area?

There’s not a definitive timeline, yet.

“It’s going to be a slow process. It is not going to be immediate,” Dennis Joyner, Director of the Union County Public Health Department, told The Enquirer-Journal.

It will be distributed to the most susceptible and vulnerable first, including healthcare workers, elderly citizens and those with underlying conditions.

“While it’s very promising and encouraging that a vaccine may be on the horizon, it’s still going to take some time for that to have a real beneficial effect for us,” Joyner said.

Until then, it’s important to follow preventative measures like wearing face masks, washing hands and social distancing.

As of Sunday, Nov. 15, there have been 6,849 confirmed cases and 67 virus-related deaths in the county since April 19, per the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Dashboard.

As of Nov. 13, the positivity rate in Union County was around 7%. The number of average daily COVID cases has gone from averaging in the 30’s to the 50’s in the last couple of weeks, according to Joyner.

It wasn’t long ago, just a few weeks, that the county’s positivity rate hovered around 5%, according to Joyner.

“We are in a concerning time frame and I think that is one of the reasons you are seeing more concern and discussion around the holiday season and travel and get togethers …,” Joyner said.

The reason for the uptick in the number of cases, or at least Joyner’s best guess, is that as people become more exhausted with having to wear face masks, wash their hands and social distance, it creates a greater probability of the coronavirus being transmitted to another person.

“I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard a little bit and I think some of the basic things such as trying to stay out of crowds, wearing masks and the whole social distance thing — it really served us well,” Joyner said. “I think a lot of our benefit in the preceding months when we were seeing some of the drops was because of a lot of those preventive measures.”

Joyner suggested “re-doubling” preventative measures so the number of cases can start to decrease.

How much longer will everyone have to adhere to COVID preventative measures? Joyner said: “I think the honest answer from an epidemiological standpoint is we’re going to be dealing with COVID for a while.”

Joyner said just before a coronavirus vaccine is able to be distributed to locals (after receiving approval from the FDA emergency use authorizations), it first needs to undergo testing from pharmaceutical companies who will then give approval and finalization. Too, the pharmaceutical companies are producing vaccines that need to undergo testing and gain approval for use.

Joyner described the process of flu vaccination distribution as an example of what normally happens when a vaccine is made available.

Pharmaceutical companies are able to broaden the scope of customers who receive flu vaccines by giving them to hospitals and doctors’ offices first, then (within the last decade) to drugstores

He remembered a time when vaccines were primarily given to health departments and limited groups which meant there were long lines of people waiting to get vaccinated.

“The different institutions that are going to be doing vaccinations should be able to communicate the vaccine they have available and they are using at that particular time based on what the supply is for them so that the public should be able to be aware of that information,” Joyner said.

As of now, there will be no user cost associated when going to get a COVID vaccine, Joyner said. That could change depending on insurance coverage.

“I know that cost is not going to be a prohibitive factor, because obviously we want from a public health standpoint and the CDC and the feds as well want to see the public have access to this particularly given the pandemic and the nature of the circumstance that we are in,” Joyner said. “We do not want cost to be a barrier for folks in receiving the vaccine.”

Joyner said the vaccines work “independently” for the viruses they are protecting against. From his understanding, Joyner said getting vaccines for both the flu and coronavirus won’t nullify or weaken the other’s effectiveness.

“We clearly, clearly encourage people to get a flu vaccine. We want to prevent as much flu as we can because it would really be problematic in folks who already got COVID because it could increase their risk and recovery and challenges in general…,” Joyner said.