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Virtual town halls inform about vaccine

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state concluded its four virtual town hall events Tuesday with officials answering Ohioans’ questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, their safety, benefits and risks.

This fourth session was directed at rural Ohio residents, with the prior three geared toward the state’s African American, Hispanic and Asian American communities.

A panel of medical experts, community and faith leaders answered common questions about the vaccines’ contents and how they were developed.

Kevin Sharrett, family medicine doctor and director of Rural Health Services for the Kettering Health Network in western Ohio, spoke about the design of the vaccines, saying the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna versions were produced using newer technologies including single-strand “messenger RNA,” while the Johnson & Johnson version was produced using traditional means that include a double-stranded DNA virus section.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat. There is more than one way to produce a vaccine,” he said.

Matt Anderson, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity at Ohio State University, said the vaccines mimic the virus as experienced by the body to prepare the immune response.

“It’s just a small snippet of the material from the virus, mostly coated by some lipids, some fat molecules, to get it into your body,” he said.

“Even though this is new technology in terms of being used for a vaccine, this technology has been around for over a decade, this messenger RNA technology,” Sharrett said. “The urgency of treating this virus really rallied our scientific community around using the latest technology.”

Anderson added the vaccines are based on 30 years of development.

“It’s an accumulation of all that work,” he said.

He pointed out that several companies competed to develop versions of the vaccine and only the versions that were fully vetted were approved.

“There were no shortcuts to developing these vaccines. The bar was not lowered,” Sharrett said. “These vaccines are, in my opinion, unparalleled in their effectiveness.”

Sharrett said there is no mercury or strong preservatives in the vaccine. Anderson added the only component of the virus in the vaccine is non-infectious.

William Hablitzel, doctor of internal medicine and Adams County Health commissioner, spoke about the best sources of information on the coronavirus and vaccines.

“There’s an abundance of information available. Sometimes it’s confusing, there’s so much information,” Hablitzel said.

He recommended the state’s coronavirus.ohio.gov website and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as universities and personal medical providers.

Tuscarawas County Commissioner Al Landis advised people to look at the sources of any claim, since misinformation about the virus and the vaccines has been abundant. The Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of the Urban Mission Ministries in Steubenville, agreed that people should always look at the direct sources.

Anderson also addressed questions about home remedies, saying that while remedies could treat some symptoms, they could not take the place of the vaccine.

“Any home remedy you could take isn’t necessarily going to take the place of a vaccine, because it’s not going to provide protection to your system from something it hasn’t seen before,” he said. “This virus is new to people and your body doesn’t know what it’s looking for.”

Shareet agreed.

“This is a novel virus. It’s new. Our bodies have not seen this virus before and we have zero immunity to this virus,” Sharrett said. “If you’re exposed to this virus, a significant exposure, you will get the COVID. There is no defense. … A lot of individuals do fairly well. Unfortunately, a lot of individuals don’t, and we can’t predict how someone’s going to respond. … An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Steele spoke about the impact of the pandemic on Ohio’s communities and on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, pointing to the lack of contact among people and empty pews in churches.

Health Commissioner Corey Hamilton of the Zanesville-Muskingum County Health Department and Senior Health Director Lance Himes of the Ohio Department of Health asked Ohioans to observe the results among people who have been vaccinated. Hamilton added that more vaccinations will lead to greater community safety, with fewer cases and hospitalizations.

“It’s OK to have questions,” Hamilton said. “The important thing is to get your questions answered from credible and trusted sources.”

In terms of vaccine side effects, the panelists said people who have reported side effects are monitored. Side effects are reported in about 30 percent of people who receive the vaccine and include a sore arm, fever, chills and fatigue, which usually ends in 24 to 36 hours.

Locally, Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported Belmont County has reached 100 deaths associated with the virus, with the latest a man in his 90s who died after being infected.

For more information about COVID-19, call 833-427-5634. The town hall video will be re-aired at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday on The Ohio Channel. The entire town hall series can be watched at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

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