Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center CEO shares information on newly released COVID-19 vaccines

Photo caption: Dr. Ron Shaw, CEO and Chief Medical Officer for the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center speaks to staff before the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered on Dec. 16, 2020. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

As pharmaceutical companies and health regulatory entities continue their work to make COVID-19 vaccines more available to the world, the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center is also presenting more information to the public to consider getting the vaccine.

Dr. Ron Shaw, CEO and Chief Medical Officer for the WHC, spoke via social media as the health center received its first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 16. Shaw touched on safety concerns as many in the public have raised questions, expressed skepticism or uncertainty on whether to receive the vaccine when available to respective demographic groups.

In opening remarks, Shaw said: “We’ve all heard a lot about the vaccines that are available, some people may not know what they should be doing now, or much about the vaccine, a lot of discussion about safety – Is it safe for me to get a vaccine? Are the vaccines going to hurt me? Am I better off taking my chances getting COVID-19 and risking those complications? Am I taking too big of a risk to submit to a vaccine that hasn’t been studied for 1-2 years like most vaccines? How do I make sense of this? How do I judge what I should do? That’s what I want to present today because it’s on a lot of people’s minds.”

December 2020 ends with a small glimmer of hope for stopping the COVID-19 spread with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issuing emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 11 and a second one to Moderna for its respective vaccine one week later. On Dec. 20, the Oklahoma Department of Health reported the state is receiving 66,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine in its initial distribution, which will be shipped to several sites during Christmas week.

Given continuous daily reports of positive COVID-19 cases locally and worldwide, the high-risk demographic groups and the potential deadly virus complications, Shaw is asking people to “think long and hard before we let fear take us to a risk of avoiding a vaccine that seems to be safe during its early evaluation.”

Shaw described the makeup of the COVID-19 vaccine as “messenger RNA vaccines that work by different mechanisms, but they do induce the body to recognize the surface of the COVID-19 virus to produce antibodies that should help prevent an infection or at least make an infection very mild. As far as the safety goes, most of these (vaccines) have been studied for 2-3 months – the first two: the Pfizer and the Moderna. The FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (reported) most of the serious reactions that occur in vaccines occur in the first 4-6 weeks not 3-6 months and so there were no serious adverse reactions during the first 4-6 week reviews and studies of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and most side effects were pain at the injection site, muscle aches, headache, fatigue and most of those symptoms resolved in 24 or 48 hours.”

Shaw also notes the two vaccines do not contain a live COVID-19 virus or pieces of the virus and some people should expect to have side effects from the vaccination including body aches.

According to the FDA, the emergency use authorization issued for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the drug is authorized to treat patients age 16 and up. The vaccine requires two injections with an initial primer dose and a booster shot 21 days later. Clinical studies show it is 95% effective, according to an NPR article.

For the Moderna vaccine, the inoculation is authorized for treating patients age 18 and older, according to its FDA emergency use authorization. The vaccine also requires two injections with an initial injection and a booster shot one month later. The Moderna vaccine has a 94.1% efficacy rate, according to a Stat News article.

When it comes to vaccines in general, Shaw said “it’s like an ounce of prevention is equal to a pound of cure, better to never contract COVID-19 than to try and treat it once you’ve had it. We do not have any good treatments for COVID-19, so our best bet is to try and protect ourselves with masks and social distancing and now we have one step further to go and get immunized so that our bodies can recognize the virus when it enters us and fight it off immediately because it recognizes the virus from the previous vaccine we got.”

Shaw reiterated most adverse side effects would be seen in the first few weeks after taking the vaccine, adding “the risk is very low – but not zero, can’t say zero because it wasn’t a study of millions of patients, but tens of thousands of patients ... I think most of you who are otherwise healthy and say 30-40, you would probably not expect to get the vaccine until April of 2021. The early priority groups at the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center and many other Indian tribal health centers is healthcare workers and individuals in long-term care facilities, nursing homes and then elders who have other medical illnesses like heart failure, lung disease and elders who are otherwise healthy and then essential employees – those people who work for governments who usually have critical roles without which the government might have to close.”

In the meantime, Shaw recommends people also get their flu shot because “better not risk flu and COVID-19 occurring, best to have your best antibody response available when you first get exposed to either the flu or COVID-19. And for those of you who are healthy and not going to be vaccinated perhaps until April, encourage your elders to get a vaccine, help them realize if they were to get COVID-19, they’re at increased risk of complications and fatal complications. If you have friends and family who work in a healthcare setting, encourage them to sign up for the shot because right now, it’s optional, it’s not mandatory in our setting. You can help by encouraging people, help them get over their fears. If you have two fears, one is COVID-19 and maybe dying from COVID-19 and getting real sick or maybe some mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, frankly for me I’d rather take my chances with the vaccine than COVID-19 and its many complications including prolonged hospitalization or death.”

Shaw said the WHC will continue to share announcements at another time when available. Follow the “Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center” on Facebook for updates and information on COVID-19 and other healthcare matters.  

The WHC can be reached at (918) 287-9300. For more online information about the WHC, visit: