COVID-19 Vaccine Answers From the UMKC Health Sciences Deans

Updates on developments and distribution
Three health sciences deans sit on curved sofas.

UMKC is one of the fortunate few universities in the U.S. to have its health professions schools clustered on one campus, and its medical, nursing, pharmacy and dental faculty and students have been on the front lines fighting this pandemic since the beginning. 

This Q & A round table with the UMKC Health Sciences Campus deans will be updated often with the latest information about the COVID-19 vaccine, its effects, distribution and developments.

Mary Anne Jackson, dean of the School of Medicine; Russ Melchert, dean of the School of Pharmacy and interim dean of the School of Dentistry; and Joy Roberts, interim dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies, are involved in leading vaccination efforts for our campus and Kansas City area communities.

After you get the vaccine, should you still follow social distancing guidelines? Should you still quarantine if you’re exposed to someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19?

Jackson: Yes, you should still mask and socially distance. The CDC just came out with new guidelines on quarantining. You do not need to if it's been two weeks or longer after your second dose.

Currently, there are two companies that have two-dose vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer. How are they being distributed?

Jackson: States are distributing, and there is no clarity on how many doses each site is given. It is in a tiered system, with frontline workers receiving in the first tier. (Here are the tiered vaccination distribution plans for Missouri and Kansas).

Roberts: Distribution of the vaccine from the federal government to the states has been a tremendous challenge. Once the supply is large enough and is rapidly distributed to the states, the benefit to Americans will be clearly visible. 

Melchert: We are preparing and beginning to plan how we might more broadly impact our communities and especially those in Phase 1A, Phase 1B Tier 1 and Tier 2 who are currently eligible. Teaming with our regional and state partners to leverage our assets with theirs is essential to efficiently reach those who are eligible to receive the vaccine. To that end, we need to get vaccine and we are trying. It is really difficult right now with the short supply and high demand. However, I suppose the high demand is a good thing because the more folks who get vaccinated, the more likely we are to achieve “community immunity.”

How should people sign up for the vaccine?

Jackson: The best strategy is to register in multiple places, with your county, and with your primary-care physician on their websites (In Missouri, here are the Jackson, Clay and Platte county sites; in Kansas, here are the Johnson and Wyandotte county sites).

What is getting the vaccine like?

Roberts: The vaccine injection was done by the very skilled registered nurses at Truman Medical Center. The injection was not any more painful than any other shot, however the muscle was later sore for about 8 hours. After that, there were no issues. Our partners at TMC are operating a very well organized vaccination clinic providing expert nursing care and safety measures. 

How effective is the vaccine?

Jackson: Both the Moderna and Pfizer have high rates of effectiveness, including against the UK B117 variant (a newer mutation believed to be more infectious) and has some coverage against the more mutated South African strain. It cannot give the infection, none of the vaccines contain live virus. It won’t change your DNA – it uses small amounts of messenger RNA that guides your body to make the antibodies, then breaks down; it cannot enter your DNA. It won’t cause infertility; there is no link to miscarriages or infertility. Still, those who are pregnant should consult with their physician.

How has UMKC helped the community with the vaccine?

Melchert: The School of Pharmacy has an army of student pharmacists and faculty pharmacists who are certified and very experienced with providing vaccinations, including the wonderful work they do every year to provide influenza vaccines for the UMKC community. Many of our students and faculty are also participating with many of our partner organizations in Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield and around the state. Dr. Cameron Lindsey and her team are partnering with the Medical Research Corp of Kansas City, the Greater Kansas City Dental Society, the Missouri Dental Association, KC CARE Health Center and others to offer a clinic in February for local area health practitioners, especially dental practitioners, pharmacists, nurses and emergency medical technicians and others in Phase 1A who have not otherwise had an opportunity to get vaccinated. Keeping our health care providers protected will increase capacity to serve those needing services.

Roberts: The School of Nursing and Health Studies has students and faculty who are educated and skilled vaccinators, ready to assist in the immunization effort as soon as mass vaccination sites have enough vaccine available. Our students have had the option to volunteer as COVID testers and as vaccinators at various sites in the metro area, including at the UMKC Student Health Center.

Jackson: Besides being vaccinators, we provide information about the vaccine at forums. The School of Medicine hosted “COVID Vaccine: Fact or Fiction,” a virtual community-wide forum with school faculty and alumni physicians on Feb. 4. 

Tell us about the latest developments with the vaccine.

Jackson: Upon approval, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a good safety and effectiveness profile, a single dosage and no cold chain issues (they don’t require the ultra-cold storage like the current vaccines do), which makes this vaccine a potential game changer if we can get a large supply.

Give us your final thoughts about the vaccine.

Roberts: The COVID 19 pandemic has been a colossal challenge to the United States. The rapid creation of a safe, effective vaccine is nothing short of miraculous. This vaccine needs to be distributed as quickly as possible to all Americans, utilizing every trained vaccinator from registered nurses to pharmacists to physicians, while at the same time being shared globally. It will take immunizing the global population to end this pandemic. 

Jackson: There are no restrictions on who can receive. The oldest and those with immune-compromising conditions may not have immune response that is as good as those who are younger and healthier, but there is no downside to the vaccine.

Melchert: The vaccine is a huge step for us to combat COVID. The more informed we can be about the safety of the vaccine, the more people can benefit from the protection it provides. However, keeping each other safe, even with the vaccine, includes continuing to be vigilant with wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and remaining at home when you have symptoms.