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Forum promotes benefits of being vaccinated: Building ‘community immunity’

  • A virtual community forum hosted by LifePath and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) on Tuesday saw local and state officials, legislators and health experts share information that will help residents make informed decisions about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 3/31/2021 5:01:02 PM

A virtual community forum hosted by LifePath and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) on Tuesday featured local and state officials, legislators and health experts sharing information that will help residents make informed decisions about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, highlighted COVID-19 data, noting there have been 107 deaths from COVID-19 in Franklin County since the pandemic began. Approximately 3,012 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region since March 2020, which has also meant thousands of close contacts have had to quarantine.

As of March 23, Comerford said, 32 percent of Franklin County residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine. She attributed this success to the “collaboration, creative scheduling and dogged persistence” of local organizers, and said the vaccination rate “offers a ray of hope” as we work toward “community immunity,” or herd immunity.

“When we take the vaccine — at least this is how I think about it — I’m not only taking it for myself … but I take it for those among us who can’t take the vaccine, those among us who are sick or immunocompromised,” she said. “We’re protecting ourselves, but we’re really protecting our neighbors, and that’s community immunity, I think, at its very finest.”

Dr. Jennifer Schimmel from Baystate Health said one of the best ways to protect the community against the virus is through a combination of getting vaccinated and continuing to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health safety guides. This includes wearing one or two masks — a surgical-style mask under a cloth mask, or two cloth masks — and continued social distancing.

“The overarching hope is really that as more people get vaccinated, that’s when we can hopefully control COVID-19 and then get back to our normal lives in this community,” Schimmel said.

All three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. have been shown to be safe and effective, Schimmel said. She explained that the body’s immune system produces antibodies when exposed to a disease, but a vaccine helps build these antibodies for protection without having to actually catch the virus first.

According to Schimmel, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, or “messenger RNA.” The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. She explained that mRNA vaccines trigger an immune response to create antibodies to protect us should the real disease enter our bodies. A viral vector vaccine uses a “harmless piece of the virus that causes COVID-19” to trigger the body to produce antibodies.

She acknowledged concerns of whether the vaccines were made “too quickly.” While the timeline “admittedly has been shorter,” with the average development timeline for a vaccine averaging 10 years, she said scientists built upon information from previous forms of the coronavirus, and manufacturing work was prepared while safety studies were being conducted.

“So this definitely happened more quickly. Too quickly? I don’t think so,” Schimmel said.

According to Stephen Segatore of the Community Health Center of Franklin County, other myths circulating online include the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine can change someone’s DNA, and that microchips are being implanted through the vaccine. This is not true, nor possible, Segatore said.

He also said the vaccine should not cause a person to test positive for COVID-19. Additionally, there is no evidence that the vaccines would cause infertility in men or women, or affect pregnancies. That said, he recommended pregnant women speak with their personal health care providers before getting a vaccine.

“Also know that women who are pregnant have a five times more likely chance of ending up in the ICU or on a ventilator compared to non-pregnant women, and up to a 70 percent increase in death,” Segatore said, citing information from Tufts Medical Center.

FRCOG Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker and Greenfield Health Director Jennifer Hoffman shared information for local vaccination programs. Those age 55 and older and individuals with one qualifying medical condition will be eligible to receive a vaccine April 5, and people ages 16 and older will be eligible April 19. They noted the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are available for those 16 and older, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available to those 18 and older.

For more information

Information for the Greenfield and Orange boards of health and the Franklin County Vaccine Collaborative can be found on the state website, vaxfinder.mass.gov. The Greenfield Health Department’s clinic hotline number is 413-775-6411. It can also be contacted by email at vaccine.clinics@greenfield-ma.gov. Leave your name, address and phone number, and whether you are in a currently eligible group or are inquiring in advance.

The Franklin County Vaccine Collaborative hotline is 413-774-3167, ext. 153. Its website, franklincountymavaccine.com, also includes information on local vaccine clinics.

LifePath’s Vaccination Access Program can be reached at 413-829-9285, and provides older people, those without internet and people with disabilities help with registration, in-home vaccinations, and coordinating rides to vaccine clinics.

Homebound residents can call the State Homebound Vaccination Program at 833-983-0485. Homebound Montague residents can call their Board of Health at 413-863-3200, ext. 205. Residents of Orange, New Salem and Wendell can call the Orange Board of Health at 978-544-1107. Residents of the 15 FRCOG Cooperative Public Health Service member towns can call Lisa White at 413-665-1400, ext. 114.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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