ADPH nurse: Many are still afraid of COVID-19 vaccine

McGraw shoots down myths, misconceptions about vaccinations

Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 7/20/21

Peggy McGraw from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) told the Rotary Club of Jasper Tuesday that many people are still concerned about the vaccines, preferring to wait and see how it works before taking it. 

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ADPH nurse: Many are still afraid of COVID-19 vaccine

McGraw shoots down myths, misconceptions about vaccinations


Peggy McGraw from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) told the Rotary Club of Jasper Tuesday that many people are still concerned about the vaccines, preferring to wait and see how it works before taking it. 

McGraw, who gave shots that morning until just before leaving for the speech, is the infection prevention control staff nurse for the West Central District of ADPH. Her area covers 11 counties, including Walker County. She has been in charge of all the COVID-19 vaccination events in the area.

She has been with the Walker County Health Department for seven years, and earlier was one of the original personnel when Capstone Rural Medical Clinic started. The Bevill State Community College graduate got her registered nurse degree in 2009. 

McGraw said the first COVID-19 case in Alabama was March 13, 2020. Vaccines arrived in Alabama by last December. The Walker County Health Department started receiving and administering Moderna by January. 

She noted the limited supply of the vaccine initially has since improved greatly. 

"We are now seeing walk-ins. We are no longer requiring an appointments," she said. 

However, she said potential recipients of the vaccine remain skeptical. 

"I often hear, 'I want to see what happens to you before I get mine,'" she said. "That happens all the time. I hear that a lot during the day, at every clinic I go to." She said it can be frustrating through a long day to make people understand the importance of the vaccine. 

She also noted there has been limited staff at vaccinations, but she added, "On a positive note, Walker County has had some outstanding volunteers." She said she wished all her volunteers were present to hear her, "because I'm so proud of each and every one of them." 

The Walker County Area Community Foundation, the Walker County Action Partnership, Capstone Rural Health Care and Bevill State Community College have all been helpful in the drive to vaccinate, she said. 

Capstone helped out early in any way possible and still partners with ALDP, she said. Bevill State nurses have come as often as possible to help. Dora Mayor Randy Stephens even arranged a day where Dora City Hall could host a clinic. 

The Alabama National Guard came in recently to help with a vaccination outreach effort. "We went to the jails, city and county," she said. "We went to the automotive industry here. They were all great to participate and help us with that." 

She quoted the state's health officer, Dr. Scott Harris, as saying that while the vaccine is not mandated, it is highly encouraged people take a vaccine to help the nation heal and get back to normal. 

According to updated figures Tuesday afternoon on ADPH website, which she recommended for the latest updates, the state has received 4.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, with 3.3 million administered. A total of 1.57 million have been fully vaccinated in Alabama. 

Walker County has administered over 38,256 doses, the  website said. There has been around 22,310 who have received at least one dose and about 18,653 of them are fully vaccinated now." 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 63,521 people were in Walker County as of July 1, 2019, a figure reflected on the website. A total of 35.12 percent in the county have received at least one shot, and 29.37 percent have completed their vaccine series, according to the website. 

Walker County has the Pfizer, the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines available, she said. Also, Pfizer's vaccine has now been approved for youth 12 and up. She noted in the spring when there were days were about 900 were vaccinated in the county, with April 1 hitting 959. 

McGraw - drawing from data compiled by ADPH Chief Medical Officer Mary G. McIntyre - said about 30 percent of the people infected with COVID-19 do not show symptoms, so no one can say how severe the symptoms might be. 

As of April 29, children account for 12 percent of all cases in Alabama, about double of what was seen by the end of December. "So we are a little concerned for our children," she said. 

"As of July 13, 2021, the covid death report since April 1, when vaccines were readily available in Alabama, totaled to 529. The deaths occurring in persons fully vaccinated are about 20. That means about 96.2 percent of covid deaths occurring over the past three and a half months have occurred in persons not fully vaccinated," she said. "Almost all the deaths from covid infection can be fully prevented." 

McGraw said it is important to understand that no vaccine is 100 percent effective against COVID-19, with vaccine breakthrough infections - those fully vaccinated getting covid infections - reported at 1,663 cases as of July 15, out of the 1.57 million fully vaccinated in the state. Overall in the state, out of everyone, more than 4,600 have had two cases of COVID-19. 

She noted as of July 16, vaccination rates remain low in Alabama, including 30.1 percent of African-Americans, 30.5 percent of Whites, 50.4 percent of those age 50-64, 35.2 percent of ages 30-49; 24.2 percent of ages 18-29; and 4.8 percent of ages birth to 17. 

"Getting vaccinated can help prevent getting sick with COVID-19," she said, reading from a chart prepared by the ADPH. "People who have already gotten sick with COVID-19 may still benefit from getting vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines cannot give you COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines will not cause you to test positive on COVID-19 viral tests." 

She said getting the vaccine will help create an immune response in your body against the virus. It may also help keep you from getting severely ill, even if you do get COVID-19. 

McGraw said some have been concerned the vaccines might contain aborted fetal tissue and cells, but she said that is in none of the vaccines, nor do they contain microchips or tracking devices. 

"Pfizer and Moderna did perform confirmation tests to make sure the vaccine works on the fetal cell line," she said. "The fetal cell line has been used where the cells grow in a laboratory and they are from elective abortions that were done in 1970 and 1980. So those are laboratory formed cells. They are no longer from the fetal cell itself. The cells grow in a laboratory now." She said the current fetal cells are thousands of generations removed from their original fetal tissue, and tissue from a fetus is not being used. 

Most side effects from the vaccine are not serious and short-lived, although a few have had serious reactions, such as blood clots and inflammation of the heart - although these side effects have been rare. Even then, conditions like the heart inflammation can be treated with antibiotics.

"None of the vaccines contain live viruses," she said. "You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. It uses a protein to help your immune system recognize and fight off the virus. That is why you may get a fever, body aches and chills. Your body sees the protein as foreign and prepares your body to get exposure to the virus itself." 

McGraw noted that with the Pfizer vaccine, in 12 to 15 year olds, the effectiveness has been better than even in adults. "It is actually very close to 100 percent," she said. "But remember the adult vaccines are approximately 95 percent effective," when fully vaccinated. 

She said there is still research going on for how long natural immunity will last after they have had COVID-19, as no one really knows. A handout sheet she provided indicated some people with weakened immune response may be at greater risk of infection again. 

Research is also going on to how long-term the vaccines will last, McGraw said. 

In a question-and-answer session with Rotary members, McGraw said she personally recommends people need to wear masks.

"I have noticed personally, and talking with the public around me, they are telling me, 'I used to get sick,'" she said. "This morning I vaccinated a young lady. She said, 'Normally, I get sick with some type of bronchitis or some type of serious cold every year. This past year, I have not been sick at all.'" 

She said keeping distance, wearing a mask and washing hands cuts down on other germs, as well as COVID-19.

McGraw said the biggest concern she hears from people not taking the vaccine is that there is not enough research available and has not been around long enough. "They are fearful of the unknown and what can happen with the vaccine," she said. 

As for how stressful it has been for health care workers to deal with the pandemic, McGraw said, "Honest opinion? I'm beyond exhausted at this point. I just get up and just go. I tell my supervisor daily, 'Send me where you want me to go, and I'll do the best I can do.' She says, 'I know you will.'"

She also thanked Stacey Adams, the West Alabama district administrator for the ADPH, for her leadership during the pandemic.