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Stark County Medical Director Says Despite Coronavirus Vaccine, People Need to Stay Vigilant

Stark County vaccine.jpg
Stark County Health Department
Dr. Maureen Ahmann, Medical Director for the Stark County Health Department, answers your questions about coronavirus testing, the COVID-19 vaccine, and where her county stands on the state's threat level map.

Stark County was one of the first places to receive the new COVID vaccine this month. But the county is still facing increase hospitalizations due to coronavirus. Now, we answer your questions with the county’s Medical Director, Dr. Maureen Ahmann, in this edition of “OH Really?

The first question this week came in anonymously. A listener who wants to know about the time between the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Do patients have a suitable amount of immunity after the first dose to go about their business?

According to Dr. Ahmann, the vaccine is two different shots 21 days apart, and you are not considered to be fully immunized until two weeks after your second vaccine. She says no vaccine is 100 percent effective. "So can people gather during the holidays after the vaccine after one shot? No, that's not advisable at this time. You have to have both doses of the vaccine and then wait another two weeks for your body to respond -- after that second dose -- to be considered fully immunized."

Until enough people in the community get the vaccine, she says we need continue to all the safety measures such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, and not gathering with people outside of your immediate home.

What if you've already had COVID-19 once? Do you still need to get vaccinated?

Dr. Ahmann's response? "If you have had COVID-19 disease, it is still recommended that you get the vaccine. We know that there may only be short-term immunity that you get after having the actual disease. We have actually seen people get re-infected with with COVID-19 after just 90 days, so you probably have immunity up to about 90 days. So we are recommending that you still get the vaccine. However, the CDC has recommended that if you recently had it within the last 90 days, that maybe you let someone else get that dose of the vaccine and wait until after 90 days to get it."

Our next question is about testing. It comes from Joanne Griffin who said a relative of hers received a 15-minute COVID test. She asked if such tests are reliable and if they are available -- and where?

"There are 15-minute rapid COVID tests," Dr. Ahrmann said. "Those generally tend to be the rapid antigen test, and they are not as sensitive or specific as the gold standard, which is the PCR test that is done through a lot of hospitals. However, they are quicker. There is utility in them if people can be ruled out on more of a mass scale. So the more people that are tested, the more reliable, the more we can trust their results. There is a high false positive and false negative rate with those tests, even with the best test that we have out there, the PCR tests. At certain times during your illness, you have up to a 20 percent false negative rate. So the real issue that we should discuss is what do you do if you don't feel well."

And if you go and get any type of COVID-19 test and it says that it's negative, should you still go about in the community like they have a normal cold?

The answer to that Dr. Ahmann said is "no, you should not. If you don't feel well at -- even if you just have the sniffles, a little sore throat -- you really should try to stay away from other people because you could pass that seasonal cold on to somebody else, and then they're going to have to go through the same thing: thinking, 'do I have coronavirus? Should I go get a test? Do I get a test? Do I have a positive test? Do I have a negative test?' So it really is everyone's personal responsibility that if you don't feel well in anyway, you need to stay home and you need to distance yourself from others."

From purple to red
Stark County had been in purple status on the state's coronavirus threat level map earlier this month, but is now at red – the second-highest level. Dr. Ahmann said part of the reason for that could be the way increases in case numbers are measured.

“Some of those indicators are triggered from ongoing, sustained increases: hospitalizations, ER visits, etc. We are already seeing such high levels that it’s hard to have a sustained increase. So I just want to make sure that people don’t get a false sense of security that, ‘oh now we’re at red, we can let our guard down, and we can have our holiday gatherings.’ Because I assure you, we will be right back purple after the holidays if people do that.”

The Stark County Health Department has put together a number of brochures about the vaccine, available here.

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Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. He received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Kent State University. While a Kent student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.