Ask the Expert: COVID-19 Vaccine

Alicia Ottmann, MMS, PA-C | Director of Advanced Practice

COVID-19 has been part of our lives for almost a year. With the welcome news of a vaccine, there is a lot of information to understand. That’s why NOAH’s expert, Alicia Ottmann, NOAH’s Director of Advanced Practice, answered some of the most popular COVID-19 vaccine questions.

When will the vaccine be available?

There are a few different versions of the COVID-19 vaccine, all in different phases of development or use. Currently (as of Dec. 22), the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines have both received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are starting to be distributed and administered to people who need it.

The federal and state governments have categorized groups of individuals who will receive the vaccine first, these people are the highest risk for contracting the virus or developing complications as a result of infection. Examples of those who will be vaccinated first include healthcare providers and long-term care facility residents.

The next group will include people who are at increased risk of getting severely ill or who are more likely to be hospitalized if they contract COVID-19, this includes the elderly and essential workers such as bus drivers, teachers and grocery store workers. After that, the people that the CDC identifies as needing to take extra precautions – those who are undergoing cancer treatment, living with a chronic disease, etc. – will likely be next. The priority categories are similar from state to state, but subcategories and the rate at which they move from phase to phase may have some differences depending on where people live.

Vaccinating millions of people can take time, so for those individuals in the general population, who do not get vaccinated as part of the first priority groups, vaccines will likely not become available until spring of 2021 or beyond.

Can I get vaccinated at NOAH?

NOAH doesn’t have the vaccine yet. The vaccines have arrived in Arizona but are not available for us to order just yet. We are planning on offering multiple easy ways to get vaccinated, which might include drive-up appointments or drive-through events so patients can avoid coming into the clinic.

Keep checking the NOAH COVID page for updates about the vaccine, testing and other COVID news in Maricopa County.

How will I know when the vaccine is available for me?

If you are in one of the categories that will get vaccinated first – healthcare worker, frontline employee – then you will be contacted by whatever entity has been tasked with serving your employer. For example, healthcare workers, teachers, EMS, etc., all get assigned to geographic groups. The organization in charge of that group will be responsible for scheduling all of those who are interested in getting vaccinated.

People who are high-risk or who qualify because of their age will likely be assigned to one of these geographic groups, or will be provided with vaccination sites that they can go to (the details are still being worked out).

How do register for the vaccine?

If you qualify to get the vaccine because of your job, your employer will send your information to the responsible organization and they will contact you when it is time to schedule. The health department is working on the process for the remainder of the priority groups (1b, 1c etc.).

Different zip codes have different groups, or pods, that manage that information. For example, if you work in healthcare in Mesa, you will have a specific site where you will get vaccinated.

After the highest risk individuals are vaccinated, the general public will likely be able to get the shot at primary care offices or specific pharmacies.

Will we have to take it every year like the flu shot?

At this time we are unsure. We have recently seen some changes in the virus, similar to what happens with different strains of the flu year to year. At this time the vaccine is still effective, but scientists are learning more about COVID-19 all the time.

Is the vaccine going to work?

The COVID-19 vaccines currently available do not use a live, weakened virus, unlike many of the other vaccines we are familiar with. Both vaccines currently available are about 95% effective. This means that after someone gets both doses, they will develop an immune response that will fight off the virus the majority of the time.

However, we need around 70-80% of the population vaccinated to reach herd immunity which will allow us to recover from the pandemic and the strain that it has placed on our systems. Herd immunity helps to protect our entire community, especially those who cannot get vaccinated. It’s also worth noting that right now, the vaccines aren’t authorized for children.

Will it be effective if children can’t get the vaccine?

The reason we are not able to vaccine children under 16 years old is because not enough studies have looked at the safety and effectiveness in children. Those studies are currently underway, and it is a rigorous process. Since we know it is safe for adults, we have now started looking at children, pregnant women and other populations with the hope of expanding the number of people who are candidates. It will just take more time for it to be authorized for widespread use.

What will the vaccine cost? What if I don’t have insurance?

There is no cost for the vaccine. If you have insurance, it will be billed to your insurance company, but you will not be responsible for any portion. If you don’t have insurance, there will be no cost to you as it will be covered by federal funds.

What if I get one dose and miss my appointment to get the second?

Unfortunately, if you miss the window for taking the second dose, you may have to start the vaccine process over. The effectiveness of the vaccine hinges on getting it at the right time, the studies have not looked at huge differences in timing and thus we are unsure about whether you would need to start over, or if you could get the second dose outside of the recommended window of time.

Also, it is important for you to get your second dose from the same vaccine manufacturer. If the first dose is the Pfizer COVID vaccine, then the second dose also has to be Pfizer. No switching or mixing allowed.

Will this vaccine alter my DNA because it uses mRNA?

No, it won’t alter your DNA as it never enters the nucleus of the cell. The science used for the mRNA COVID vaccines has been used safely for other medical purposes for over a decade, but COVID-19 is the first time the science has been used in widely distributed vaccines. The way it works is, instead of giving our bodies a weakened virus or portion of a pathogen to trigger our immune system to make antibodies like typical vaccines, the mRNA process is giving our body the “recipe” to make the proteins which trigger an immune response (antibodies).

And, the good news is that the process to manufacture the vaccines is faster and looks to be highly effective, maybe more effective than traditional vaccine methods!

Check back with NOAH for more updates about COVID testing and vaccines and your other healthcare needs.

Chocolate Covered Anything Day – Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Do you love a good piece of chocolate? While milk chocolate is fine to enjoy occasionally, it tends to be higher in sugar and fat. However, there may be some great benefits to adding a bit of dark chocolate to your diet a few times a week. To get the benefits, the chocolate needs to have a cocoa percentage of around 65-80%.

While dark chocolate is a product higher in calories and fat, it also contains the following important nutrients:

  • Fiber – normal digestion and managing blood sugars.
  • Iron – delivers oxygen throughout the body and maintains hair, skin, and nails.
  • Magnesium – important for nerve and muscle function, a healthy immune system, and keeping bones strong.
  • Copper – may help prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
  • Manganese – supports bone health, is an antioxidant, and plays a part in blood sugar regulation.

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which protect against cell damage from a variety of sources, such as inflammation, pollution, and exposure to other chemicals; and eating processed or refined foods, trans fat, and artificial additives. This form of chocolate, along with other antioxidant rich foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and green tea) may help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues and lowering cholesterol.

Remember – even with these benefits, it is still essential to practice portion control with dark chocolate and maintain an overall balanced eating plan with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Try this amazing Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Coffee recipe that’s perfect for entertaining or to have on a cold winter’s day!

The NOAH Holiday Cookbook is Here!

We all celebrate the holiday season in different ways. But many of the traditions passed down from generation to generation, or new and exciting ways we celebrate the season include something memorable to eat or drink.

Not everyone can enjoy all the seasonal favorites if they are living with diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, or another chronic condition partially managed by a healthy diet.

That’s why NOAH’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are thrilled to share some of their favorite holiday meals, treats, and snacks with everyone in a way that is healthy for all your friends and family to enjoy.

You can download the NOAH Holiday Cookbook to enjoy these new recipes!

Click here to go get your NOAH Holiday Cookbook today. Then, you can enjoy these holiday meals and the flavors and tastes of the season in a deliciously healthy way.

Coping Skills for this Holiday Season

Holidays and emotional health go hand in hand. These past few years have asked a lot of all of us, emotionally and mentally. That’s why mental health this holiday season (and always, really) should be something we think about. And, we all benefit from using healthy coping skills. NOAH’s experts weigh in on coping skills and the holiday season below.

First, we hope you have readjusted your expectations for 2021 vs. prior to COVID. Some things may be “back to normal” and some things and people may not be quite the same as pre-COVID (that includes you!). If you expect a holiday season that is picture perfect, when real life doesn’t meet your expectation, the reaction can be very real and very difficult.  

Now that we’ve all adjusted our expectations, our NOAH behavioral health experts share good coping skills. Learn healthy ways to deal with stress, anxiety and depression, your day and however you are celebrating the holidays this year. Coping skills can be different from person to person, and in different situations.

Try these coping skills and use what works best for you

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. There is a lot more about this important step in a previous post, so read about that here.
  2. Talk to someone. This can be a counselor or therapist, or it can be a friend or family member who helps you feel heard and calms the situation without getting involved.
  3. Slow down. If you are doing too many things, being everything for everyone, it’s time to slow down and take a break.
  4. Make a list. If you have a lot to do (see #3 above), and it is causing stress, make a list. Crossing things off your list also gives you a sense of accomplishment which is a positive feeling.
  5. Do deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises can have a lot of benefits to your overall health. Take deep breaths in, hold it for several seconds and slowly exhale. Repeat this for a minute or two.
  6. Get distracted. Step away from what is causing you anxiety or depression. Try to lose yourself in something else, like a puzzle, an easy project, adult coloring books, yard work or whatever can keep you distracted for a while.
  7. Take a walk. Walking outdoors is great for your health. Not only is the exercise good, fresh air and sunshine are helpful for your overall health. Plus, taking a walk can distract you (#6) and help you slow down (#3) as well.
  8. Use your five senses. Do something that engages different senses. Notice what is around you using sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste. This will give your mind a break from things that may be causing stress.

This holiday season can hold a lot of different feelings and emotions, and that is okay. Be kind to yourself and others. And, most importantly, enjoy the holiday season however you celebrate it.

Ways to Celebrate Family Caregivers this Holiday Season

While National Family Caregiver Month may be over, NOAH knows a few things:

  1. Caregivers deserve to be honored, appreciated, and supported all year.
  2. Being a family caregiver over the last last two years has meant something different than in past years.

Caregivers who are helping family members, friends, or loved ones who are aging in place or dealing with an illness (or both) give so much of themselves all year. How should you celebrate a caregiver in your life through the holiday season? We have some ideas.

But first, understand that being a caregiver during the pandemic has been a much different experience.

Many adult and child daycare centers have closed at some point during the pandemic. Some families have opted to make alternate permanent arrangements for their loved ones. What those care centers provide is a sense of community for the aging or ill individual, and respite for the caregiver. Additionally, some organizations that offered other services like meal deliveries have had to adjust to sometimes inconsistent volunteers or staff.

Lastly, there is stress and concern. Caring for older adults and people chronic illnesses or diseases can be even harder when a virus is in the community that is especially dangerous to the person you are caring for.

This gives everyone even more reason to celebrate these individuals throughout the holiday season! Here are some ideas:

  • Food is always a welcome choice! If you can order meals to have delivered or drop off something for the caregiver so they don’t have to cook for themselves later, that will be a welcome gift.
  • Help stock their supplies. If you know what they need to provide care, you can help them out with extra supplies, or even books, games, puzzles, or other activities the patient or caregiver enjoy.
  • Personal pampering for caregivers. A personalized coffee mug for the coffee lover, a calming candle for the caregiver who likes to create a peaceful space, a journal for the writer, and lotion for everyone – because we are all (thankfully) washing our hands a lot more – are all great ways to show appreciation.

Everyone loves a thoughtful gift but showing gratitude and understanding for the hard work caregivers do every day is one of the nicest ways to celebrate them this holiday season and all year.

Getting Clean During Handwashing Awareness Week

During 2020, we have heard experts, healthcare providers, friends, neighbors, and even our own young children talk about the importance of handwashing. While living through the COVID-19 pandemic has put handwashing at the top of everyone’s to-do list, we are here to celebrate how this one action has helped keep us healthy for years, and will continue to keep us healthy long after 2020.

Handwashing is an easy step to take throughout the day and has shown to be one of the best ways to keep germs from spreading, which is a big reason to celebrate! It is easy, effective, and already part of our daily routines.

A few rules of handwashing can help make sure you and the people around you are healthy and safe from germs.

1. You need soap.

Handwashing has to include soap. Rinsing hands might get dirt or something sticky off your hands, but the germs that can spread diseases and illnesses will still be there. If there isn’t soap nearby, use hand sanitizer.

2. Any kind of hand soap will do.

You don’t need to use antibacterial soap. Regular hand soap does the job without some of the added chemicals that you really don’t need.

3. Wash every part of your hand.

To get the benefits of washing your hands, you really have to wash your whole hand. According to the CDC, that means lathering hands well with the soap and making sure to wash the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

4. Take your time.

The amount of time you should lather soap around all parts of your hands is 20 seconds. You can hum (or sing!) the “Happy Birthday” song which is about 20 seconds if you need a little help remembering. Then, rinse for 10 seconds. This ensures all of the soap and the germs are rinsed off your hands.

Remember, washing your hands is the best way to keep yourself and others healthy. Let’s celebrate the easy and effective way to prevent the spread of illnesses this week and always.

Wash your hands!

Keep Your Mask. Ditch Your Acne. Tips for Combating Mask Acne

By Karina, Luera, DO PGY-1 Heuser Family Medicine Center

Is your mask causing acne breakouts? Wearing masks can trap heat, sweat, and bacteria on your face, making it an ideal place for skin breakouts. Even though we must continue to wear masks to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities, there are still plenty of ways to keep your skin happy and healthy.

  1. Drink water and eat healthily.

    That’s right, the first tip to healthy skin starts within. Make sure you and your skin stay hydrated by drinking a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day. Also, make sure to eat a well-balanced diet that contains the vitamins and nutrients your skin needs to thrive.

  2. Wash your face every day.

    You should have a daily habit of cleaning your face with a gentle cleanser. If your acne is not improving with this regimen, you may need a medicated cleanser, so talk with your doctor about finding the correct regimen for you.

  3. Don’t forget to moisturize.

    Living in a dry and dusty desert can take a toll on your skin, so be sure to keep your skin hydrated on the outside too by applying a daily moisturizing cream.

  4.  Catch those Z’s. 

    When we rest, our skin is actively repairing itself, so don’t skimp on sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night to give your skin plenty of time to rejuvenate.

  5. Shield from the sun. 

    Too much sun exposure can be irritating to your skin. Your daily moisturizer should contain sunscreen to protect you from those harmful UV rays. Also, when you spend time outdoors, wear a hat to shade your face from the sun.

  6. Hands off.

    Although it is tempting, you should never pick at your pimples. Touching your face spreads bacteria and causes more irritation, which will make your breakouts worse.

  7. Wash that mask.

    If you’re using fabric masks, then they need to be routinely washed to get rid of the bacteria on them. If possible, wear a clean mask every day.

Masks will continue to be an important part of our community effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, but acne doesn’t have to come along with mask-wearing. Follow these tips and if you’re still struggling to control your breakouts, come see us at the NOAH Heuser Family Medicine Clinic. We are happy to help you find a personalized skincare regimen that will keep you healthy, inside and out!

Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week

By Stephanie Olzinski, RDN

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) are both forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. People with these conditions can have moderate to severe symptoms and Crohn’s and UC currently affect over 780,000 and 900,000 Americans, respectively. Some people may go undiagnosed, however knowing the symptoms can help you determine which you suffer from and how to get help.

UC is characterized by affecting the large intestine and rectum whereas Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, but commonly at the site between the small and large intestines.

When examining symptoms, most people experience:

  • abdominal pain.
  • bloating.
  • inflammation.
  • diarrhea with or without blood and/or mucus.
  • weight loss.
  • anemia.

Nutrition plays a large role in managing symptoms of Crohn’s and UC as some foods or beverages can either help or worsen symptoms. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian at NOAH can help with determine the right personalized plan for you.

For Crohn’s disease, some people need a higher calorie and protein diet to maintain nutritional needs. Certain fibers should be limited, as well as fatty and spicy foods. 

For UC, consume more:

  • fibers from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • probiotic foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.

The same triggers for Crohn’s can affect those with UC as well. Recording a journal that highlights foods/beverages consumed alongside the types of symptoms and when they occur can be great to review with your dietitian. He or she can determine what triggers your symptoms as well as provide recommendations of a healthy diet that fits your specific needs.