Ask the Expert: COVID-19 in 2021

Dr. Jennifer Vanyo-Novak, D.O. | Family Physician, Medical Director

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us ups and downs over the past year and a half. We hear about the “return to normal” but what does that mean and how do we get there?

NOAH’s Medical Director and Family Physician Dr. Vanyo-Novak breaks down the facts, explains the complex, and clears up rumors and misunderstandings about COVID, vaccines, and the new normal.

Dr. Vanyo-Novak

A lot of places are opening back up. Do we really need masks again since places stopped requiring them? Isn’t COVID almost over?  

Unfortunately, no, COVID is not almost over. Though the number of cases declined for a while thanks to mask mandates, social distancing, and vaccines against COVID-19, we are now seeing the cases rise.  As of 7.27.2021 the CDC has advised that even vaccinated individuals begin to mask again indoors in high risk COVID regions which includes us here in Maricopa County. This is in part due to lower than needed vaccine rates, not enough people following guidelines, and an increase in travel and social gatherings.  Like with most viruses that go uncontained, we are seeing the virus that causes COVID-19 evolve into new variants (strains of the virus) that are smarter, more easily transmitted, and harder to defeat than the original strains of the virus.

Right now we are hearing about variants, especially the Delta variant, but what is the difference? Should we be worried about another outbreak?

Viruses are living things and they continuously change so they can evolve and survive. There are several different strains right now, Delta being the most common one in the U.S. Several new strains are labeled as “Variants of Concern” by the CDC meaning they are more transmissible, cause more serious illness, don’t respond as well to treatments, and can be more resistant to vaccines.

With a rise in cases due to the Delta variant and other “Variants of Concern” we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations in younger patients without risk factors, even young children.  The virus is not just a risk for the elderly or people with underlying conditions. 

If someone got the vaccine, are they safe from new COVID strains? Will they need to take booster shots?

Honestly, we are still learning about the virus, its’ variants, and the vaccines. In the beginning health experts and scientists weren’t sure booster shots would be needed. Now, it looks likely that boosters will be needed but we don’t know when. Originally, they did not think boosters would be needed soon, but this can change as the case numbers rise. What the experts are working on understanding is if vaccinated people are getting COVID, is it because these new strains are outsmarting the vaccines, if the vaccine effectiveness is fading, or a combination of the two. 

Currently 97% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals. That tells us that while we will not ever be 100% protected, most vaccinated people are protected and if they do get infected it is unlikely that they will get seriously ill. That was always a big goal with the vaccine.

If someone didn’t get vaccinated and doesn’t plan to, won’t they be safe since other people got the vaccine and infections are lower than earlier in the pandemic?

It is great that as of 7.28.21 338 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID. However, that is only 49% of the U.S., putting us well below the 70-80% needed for herd immunity.

COVID cases aren’t looking as good as they were even a month ago. Less than 50% of Maricopa County is fully vaccinated and with school starting, travel increasing, and mask mandates mostly gone, the number of infected people will continue to increase.

Most of us interact with other people: school, work, stores, travel, transportation, exercising at gyms, and more. We can’t just think about ourselves, we must consider our community – the herd – and protect that. We have a responsibility to our friends, family, neighbors, and society to take care of each other.

The virus will continue to mutate into new variants and harm people, and the vaccines are our greatest defense.  We need to achieve herd immunity before we can truly begin to feel safe.

Kids don’t get COVID, so why do they need a vaccine?

In general most children have a much more robust immune system than adults. Children have gotten COVID throughout the pandemic, but they are getting it more now, and ending up in the hospital more. With new variants this trend may continue, and more children may become seriously ill or worse, die from this virus.

Children, like the rest of us, interact with family members, friends, classmates, teammates, and many other people. We want children to be protected from this virus, but also for them to protect their community as well.

How can we possibly know if the vaccines are safe if they aren’t fully approved?

They have all been given Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and here is a short video to explain it. All vaccines have trials that require at least 3,000 people. The COVID vaccine trials were done on 30,000 people before the first approvals in late 2020!

The main difference in the approval and process for the COVID vaccines is that while most vaccines go through a series of steps, finishing one step before moving the next one, with COVID vaccines, they moved to the next step once all the data showed things were looking good (as opposed to fully completed). But every step was still included, all the monitoring and review was still happening, but in a more fluid way.

At this time, every step has been fully completed and vaccine makers are beginning to apply for full FDA approval.

If the risk of getting really sick from COVID-19 is still low, why should someone take a new vaccine?

Possible side effects from the vaccine are still much less than the risk of COVID-19 and serious illness, including what we are now seeing as long-haul COVID. The vaccine side effects are mostly normal, expected, and mild. COVID is mutating and with each strain it can be more deadly, or more infectious than before.

We cannot just consider ourselves; we have to consider the effects of our choices on those around us. 

If the mRNA (vaccine technology used in some vaccines) isn’t new medical technology, why haven’t we used it in vaccines before.

t hasn’t been used in vaccines before COVID because we haven’t needed a new vaccine on this scale until now. The mRNA technology has been used successfully for decades, with a lot of research done on its benefits and any risks.

Anyone 12 and older can schedule their vaccine appointment one of NOAH’s locations. Click here to request an appointment. If you have additional questions or concerns about COVID-19 or the vaccine, make an appointment with one of our medical providers.

NEWS: NOAH to offer Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12+

PHOENIX (May 12, 2021) – Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH), a leading community health center in Maricopa county delivering comprehensive health services to the underserved, announced today that it will offer the COVID-19 vaccine to those ages 12 and above beginning on May 21.

NOAH began rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in February, already vaccinating more than 16,000 patients, including many underserved community members. Anyone can schedule their vaccine with NOAH if they are 12 and older, regardless of whether they are a patient.

“We prioritize healthcare for every member of our community, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, that has meant adjusting, adding, and enhancing what we are doing and remaining flexible to the realities of this virus,” said Wendy Armendariz, NOAH CEO. “We are excited to provide the Pfizer vaccine to individuals 12 and older, in addition to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The NOAH team is thrilled to be able to add this important layer of protection to families in our community.”

NOAH currently offers both the Moderna two-dose vaccine as well as the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine at various NOAH health centers. The nonprofit health center will begin offering the Pfizer two-dose vaccine in addition to the others, with the second dose given 21 days after the first. There is no cost for any COVID-19 vaccine.

At this time, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for individuals under age 18. Five of NOAH’s nine locations currently offer COVID-19 vaccines, with two of those beginning to provide the Pfizer vaccine to 12 and older:

  • Desert Mission Health Center at 9201 N 5th St, Phoenix
  • Palomino Health Center at 16251 N Cave Creek Rd, Phoenix

Anyone can schedule their vaccine with NOAH, regardless of whether they are a NOAH patient or not and regardless of immigration status. No insurance is required for the vaccine. NOAH has bilingual staff and can help individuals schedule at https://noahhelps.org/covid-vaccine/ or by calling 480-882-4545.

Did You Know, Beating COVID is FREE for Patients

Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t.

We want all of our patients, and their family, friends and coworkers to safe, healthy, and have the care they need. So, whether you come to NOAH, or go to another health center, whether you have insurance or not, you won’t have to pay for:

  • Testing – both diagnostic (COVID-19 positive or negative), or antibody (showing you had COVID-19 or received the vaccine) are no cost to patients.
  • Treatment – includes office or telehealth appointments, emergency room visits, inpatient or outpatient care, skilled nursing facility or other long-term care. Also included is equipment like ventilators, and ambulance or non-emergent transportation service.
  • Vaccine – anyone 16 and older in Arizona can get the vaccine with no cost to the patient. At NOAH, we have the Moderna vaccine that has been approved for 18+ and anyone can request a vaccine appointment. Once vaccines are approved for younger ages, NOAH will administer vaccines to additional age groups at no cost to the patient.

What about health insurance?

No patient cost means no patient cost.

If you are a new or existing NOAH patient, and are uninsured, you do not need to talk with us first. NOAH works directly with HRSA and Maricopa County to ensure that none of our patients – insured or not – will have to pay for any COVID-related medical care.

If you are an uninsured or undocumented patient not coming to NOAH, talk to your health center ahead of time to see if they will agree to bill the federal government for the COVID-19 care listed above.

More information about this is on this Health and Human Services page, including English- and Spanish-language materials.

Important Details about your COVID care

The only way we get past COVID-19 is together, with everyone getting the healthcare they need and deserve. Some important details:

  1. If you are uninsured and got a bill for COVID-19 testing or treatment:
    1. If you didn’t pay it yet, ask your provider to bill the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program instead of you.
    1. If you did pay the bill, you may be owed a refund. Contact the facility that billed you. If they don’t cancel the bill or give you a refund, contact the HHS Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or online to file a complaint.

If you have additional questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, visit NOAH’s COVID-19 page. If you want to talk to a provider about COVID-19, treatment, vaccines, or something completely different, request an appointment.

Myth or Fact – Understanding the COVID Vaccine

Everything about COVID-19 came at us quickly in 2020. From how the virus spreads to vaccine options, we have learned so much about. But it’s also no surprise that there are questions and misunderstandings. That’s why NOAH experts are responding to some of the most common COVID vaccine myths.

Myth #1 – It’s too soon to know if the vaccine is safe and effective.

Fact – Approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson – did not skip any necessary step. The two initial vaccines approved in the U.S., Pfizer and Moderna, were about 95% effective in trials. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 66.3% effective in preventing all COVID-19. All available vaccines are highly effective at preventing infection, as well as preventing hospitalization and death from the virus.

The vaccines are safe. Other than expected side effects like headaches, chills, and arm pain, severe allergic reactions are extremely rare. All patients are monitored for 15 minutes after receiving their vaccine to monitor for any signs of these rare reactions so they can receive immediate treatment if needed.

Myth #2 – If I had COVID, I don’t need the vaccine.

Fact – People can – and have – gotten COVID-19 more than once. Plus, this virus can have serious and lasting health risks. We also don’t yet know how long natural immunity (from having COVID-19) will last. Early evidence shows that natural immunity may not last long enough to stop the spread. The evidence scientists are seeing from the vaccine tell us that the vaccine may offer better protection than natural immunity.

Myth #3 – I don’t need to wear a mask after getting the COVID vaccine.

Fact – Fully vaccinated people can still carry and spread the virus to unvaccinated people. By wearing masks and continuing to give physical distance from people that don’t live in your home, you are protecting them from infection, and from you getting the virus and carrying it to other unvaccinated people.

At this time (4/5/2021), none of the vaccines are approved for children under 16. Those trials are underway but are not fully approved yet. Wearing your mask will continue to protect children and other unvaccinated individuals.

Myth #4 – The vaccine causes infertility in women.

Fact – None of the available COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility. This myth happened because a false social media report (*read more on this at the end) was shared saying that the spike protein on the coronavirus was the same as another spike protein that is involved in placenta growth and attachment during pregnancy.

The spike protein in the coronavirus is what allows it to enter the cell and replicate. The vaccine targets this spike protein.

The false report said the COVID vaccine would target the protein in a woman’s body that helps with healthy placenta growth and harm her fertility. The COVID vaccine ONLY targets the specific spike protein of the coronavirus because it is completely different. The vaccine won’t interact with a woman’s fertility or fertility treatments. More information from Johns Hopkins Medicine on this topic is available here.

Myth #5 – The COVID vaccine gives you COVID.

Fact – The COVID vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA technology and do not use any form of any virus. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses what is called a viral vector to carry the information to our body. This vector is a harmless version of a different virus. None of the vaccines can give someone the virus because none of the vaccines contain any part of the virus. What all of the vaccines will do, though, is tell our healthy cells how to respond to COVID-19.

Any side effects from getting the vaccine, like arm pain where you received the shot, a fever, body aches, chills, or a headache are actually a good thing! We know they aren’t fun, but they are temporary and show that your body is responding to the vaccine and building protection. Many people don’t experience any side effects.

Myth #6 – The mRNA technology is new and changes your DNA.

Fact — The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology to give instructions to our bodies on how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19. The mRNA does enter the cell, but does NOT enter the part of the cell that contains our DNA, so it cannot change our DNA.

This mRNA technology is not new to science or medicine; it has been used and studied for almost 20 years. The COVID-19 vaccine is the first time, though, mRNA is being used in a vaccine. Scientists were able to create the vaccines happened faster than if scientists were using a new technology because of past experience and studies.

NOAH’s own Dr. Bell shares a helpful and easy-to-understand information about COVID-19 and the vaccine in this brief YouTube video.

So much has happened around COVID-19 in just one year. Ensuring our patients and community understand how to stay safe and healthy is important. Your NOAH provider can answer any questions you have about COVID, the vaccine, or any other health and wellness concerns. Check out the NOAH COVID-19 page on our website for additional information.

*Social media allows us to stay connected and to share helpful, fun, and important information with people in our lives. However, the prevalence of misinformation shared across social media platforms can cause real and harmful outcomes. At NOAH, we only share our NOAH provider’s (doctors, physician assistants, nutritionists, counselors, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, dentists, etc.) expert insight and knowledge, or trusted third-party sources of information. We will never share questionable information, rumors, or unverified medical insights in our blogs or on our social media platforms.  

Patients 18+ Can Get COVID Vaccine at NOAH

New age groups eligible for vaccine

Starting Wednesday, March 24, NOAH patients who are 18 and older can schedule to get the COVID vaccine.

NOAH is currently administering the Moderna COVID vaccine which has emergency use authorization for individuals who are 18 and older at several NOAH locations:

  • Venado Health Center
  • Palomino Health Center
  • Desert Mission Health Center
  • Copperwood Health Center

To schedule your appointment, complete the form below, or call 480-882-4545. There are drive-thru, drive-up, and in-clinic appointments available at different clinics on different days. You can request the location that works best for you.

After you submit the request form, a NOAH representative will call you to discuss available days and times for your appointment, and whether it is a drive-thru, drive-up, or in-clinic appointment.

Here are a few tips to get ready for your vaccine appointment, including what to bring with you and the process of getting the vaccine.

Get Ready for the COVID Vaccine.

As other age groups, like 16 and older, are available, NOAH will update the information and communicate with patients. Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for individuals 16 and older, the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are only approved for 18 and older. For more information about that, visit this Maricopa County Eligibility and Prioritization page.

To learn more about the COVID-19 and the COVID vaccine, read our Ask the Expert article or visit our Coronavirus page to updates about signs and symptoms, testing, updated prevention tips, and vaccine information.

NOAH offers comprehensive, integrated healthcare for all individuals. At the nine different locations, NOAH provides services including pediatrics, dental, behavioral health, internal medicine, prenatal, family medicine, community resources, nutrition services, and more. To learn more about other services, visit our Services page.

Children’s Mental Health & Learning During COVID: A Series

By Zach Clay, Licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy

During this unprecedented and often challenging time in the world, we need to consider the impact everything has on children. The COVID-19 pandemic can be particularly tough for children’s mental health and their ability to learn. NOAH’s Behavioral Health team shares expert insight, best practices, and resources in this series of posts to help children maintain mental health in the era of COVID-19, social distancing, and distance learning.  

Adjusting to Changes in School and Learning

School is important for children. Even with more children learning through homeschooling or virtual schools before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most children were still attending school in-person. When schools had to close and switch to remote learning in early 2020, children and families across the county faced a major adjustment.

While education is the primary goal, the school environment also provides access to friends, teachers, routines, and so much more. All of these things are critical for children’s academic and social development. On top of that, many students rely on schools for mental health care, along with nutritious and consistent meals.

Children experienced these changes while living through the uncertainty because of COVID and things outside of their control. That is a lot to ask of our kids.

How to best support children’s learning

Regardless of whether school is virtual or in-person for your child, this school year is different. Navigating remote learning or new rules, restrictions, and cancellations of regular school activities will be something parents and children need to do. Here are a few tips:

  • Set and keep a routine. Children benefit from routines, particularly in stressful times. Routines offer people of all ages comfort and predictability, so parents and other caregivers benefit too. Setting and keeping routines help children cope and can make school time more productive. More on coping skills for children in our next post!
  • Understand that (mis)behavior is often caused by emotions. Often times, a child may misbehave or have negative reactions for basic, emotional reasons. Frustrations with remote learning, cancelled parties, or other disappointments and unmet expectations can cause these emotions and behaviors. As the parent or caregiver, make the connection first to help change the behavior.
  • Develop important life skills. Remote learning can help children learn important self-regulation skills. Virtual classrooms and independent classwork offer the chance to set new goals, be accountable and independent, and learn to adapt if needed.
  • Be engaged in their education. This is always important for parents and caregivers to do. Ask about what children are learning and what they think is interesting. Help them organize their school day if it is virtual. Guide them through big assignments, help set goals, and give them choices about how you can help.

Monitor screen time

Screens are part of our daily lives. Before the pandemic, kids may be used to screens for fun activities like watching shows, being creative, and connecting with friends. Now, screen time might also be their classroom, group activity, class project and other extracurricular activities increasing their screen time even more. Here are some tips for managing screen time:

  • Kindness and some compassion go a long way. We are living through a once-in-a-lifetime event with the COVID-19 pandemic. A little unstructured screen time may be an important break or comfort for many kids. Letting your kids know that you understand their needs is a simple way to reduce stress for everyone.
  • Screen time can be a bonus. Try using extra screen time as an incentive for good behavior. If you try this, let your child know exactly what they need to do to earn the extra time. Write down the goal together and post it in their workspace as a reminder.
  • Keep a schedule. This can be part of the routine mentioned above. It’s helpful for kids to know when they’ll be allowed to use their devices. For example, maybe they always get 30 minutes before dinner. That structure helps kids know what to expect and can limit their requests for more screen time.
  • Set the example. It is so important for parents and caregivers to lead by example. If you set down your phone or tablet during set times (during dinner, after school/work, etc.), your children will be more likely to do the same. Plus, we all need to take breaks from technology and media, and we can all benefit from less time with our devices, and more moments with our kids.

Remember, we are all living through a challenging time, and children are experiencing everything happening around them. Spend some quality time with your child, which is proven to help kids feel appreciated and loved and gives them confidence in adapting to changes. NOAH offers comprehensive behavioral health services to help parents, children, and families during COVID-19 challenges, remote learning adjustments, and everyday life.

Above all, parents should know this: Do the best that you can. Your child appreciates it, even if they don’t show it now.

Get Well with Food: How nutrition helps you recover

By Stephanie Olzinski, MS, RDN & Nicole Vaudrin O’Reilly, RDN

Proper nutrition helps the body fight infections and heal from surgery or wounds, colds, the flu, COVID-19, and other illnesses and injuries. When your body is going through the healing process, it generally increases the need for calories and specific nutrients. When an illness, like COVID-19, affects appetite, taste, and smell, eating well can be even harder.

Here are recommendations to have a balanced, healthy diet to help your recovery.

Hydrate: Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea can all contribute to dehydration, not to mention being hydrated is helpful for relieving cold symptoms as well.  Try to increase how much water you drink. Adults should try to drink eight 8-oz glasses of water every day when they aren’t sick. Adults who are recovering from an illness should drink 3 liters / 100oz / 12 8-oz glasses of mostly water every day. If you really want to help your body, add 1-2 servings of electrolyte drinks, like Pedialyte, Gatorade, or Emergen-C per day to stay hydrated. That can feel like a lot but sipping on small glasses of water every 15 minutes throughout the day can make it easier.

Food Frequency:  Small, frequent meals and snacks can help with meeting your increased needs, even when you’re not hungry. Try to eat small, healthy snacks or meals, or drink broth, supplement shakes, or smoothies every few hours.

Protein: Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and for building and repairing body tissues. So as your body is healing, you will need more protein. We recommend eating a variety of protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and seeds. Protein powders or drinks can be helpful if you need to increase your protein, especially if your appetite, taste, and/or smell are impacted because of your illness.

Nutrient-Dense Foods: These are foods that have a lot of vitamins and minerals – important for health. Examples of nutrition-dense foods includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meat, skinless poultry, peas and beans, and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds. Nutrition helps when you’re recovering from being sick or injured, so try to eat as many of these foods as you can.

Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins D, C and E, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids help your immune system heal from being sick or injured. Taking a daily multi-vitamin with these nutrients can be a good way to have enough but ask your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements. The best way to get these important vitamins and minerals, though, is in what you eat. Eat as many nutrient-dense foods (listed above) as you can every day – at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (frozen, fresh, canned, blended in smoothies, vegetable-based soups, etc.). Choose whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, corn, or whole wheat tortillas) and include plenty of eggs, meat, dairy, healthy oils (olive, canola, avocado, flaxseed), nuts/seeds, and seafood.

Probiotics: Antibiotics are a powerful tool against bacterial infections, but they can disrupt your gut microbiome (the good bacteria and other microbes living in your intestines that help you digest your food), leaving you with side effects like diarrhea. If you need antibiotics, consider taking a supplement or eating plenty of probiotic foods during and after treatment. Since probiotics are also bacteria (what the antibiotic will be fighting), be sure to take your antibiotics and probiotics supplements or foods a few hours apart. Fermented foods are the best source of probiotics and include yogurt, kefir, cheese, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and probiotic drinks – Yakult or Bio Salud.

It is amazing what nutrition can do for our bodies and our daily lives. Nutrition helps our overall health by assisting our body in fighting diseases, recovering from illness and injury, and so much more. NOAH’s team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) works with our patients because nutrition is a big part of your overall health. Talk to one of our RDNs today to learn more.

Children’s Mental Health & Learning During COVID: A Series

By Zach Clay, Licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy

During this unprecedented and often challenging time, we should consider the impact it has on children. The COVID-19 pandemic can be particularly tough for children’s mental health and their ability to learn. NOAH’s Behavioral Health team shares expert insight, best practices, and resources in this series of posts to help children maintain mental health in the era of COVID-19, social distancing, and distance learning.  

Help children understand COVID

It is approximately 11 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began. In many ways, we are still adjusting to different phases of routines and “normal” life activities, and that includes children. Parents and caregivers should be able to talk about the impacts of the virus to help children understand without causing them to feel overly worried or anxious. NOAH experts support the following recommendations from the Child Mind Institute to help guide parents and other caregivers in these conversations with children.

  • Welcome their questions. Kids have questions! Any parent, teacher, grandparent, neighbor, babysitter, and friend knows that children have many questions. It’s a good thing because curiosity is an important quality in kids. Questions can range from serious, like “Will Grandma be okay?” to the much less serious, like “Will my favorite videogame store still be there?”. Encourage their questions and take their concerns seriously. Your goal is to help your children be heard and to answer their questions with fact-based information.
  • Don’t avoid questions you can’t answer. Telling a child “I don’t know.” is an acceptable answer when it is the truth. There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and things change frequently. While we want to tell our children that everything will be “back to normal soon,” we may not know. Helping your child learn how to accept uncertainty is key to reducing anxiety and helping them build resilience.
  • Be developmentally appropriate. Being honest is important, but that doesn’t mean giving too much information which can be overwhelming or confusing for children. Answer their questions honestly and clearly, and if they have follow-up questions they will ask because you have shown them you will answer their questions.
  • Deal with your own anxiety. We are living through a global pandemic and economic crisis. This isn’t an easy or normal situation for anyone of any age. It’s okay, and expected, for parents or caregivers to have sadness, stress, or anxiety about everything happening. But don’t try to talk to your children about their questions or stresses if you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Take some time before having a conversation or answering your child’s questions because it will be hard to help them if you are struggling. If you are experiencing stress and anxiety about COVID-19 or anything else, NOAH’s counseling team is available.
  • Be reassuring. Children may be worried that they will catch the virus or become afraid other people they care about will become sick. Reassure them that children don’t usually get very sick, and that as a family you are doing everything you can to keep them – and other people – safe and healthy by wearing masks, socially distancing, and following other recommendations.
  • Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. Children will feel safe by having parents and other caregivers emphasize the safety measures that you, and others around you (like teachers, coaches, etc.) are taking. Remind kids that washing their hands is helping everyone by stopping the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

Keep talking to your kids. When they know you will answer their questions, help find answers together, tell them the truth, and help them feel calm and safe, they will likely keep talking. Many children (and adults) are visual learners and might enjoy learning about the virus with a comic book created by NPR. More on this series for Children’s Mental Health & Learning During COVID to come!

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.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in 2020

This year we have experienced many changes, from the way we celebrate birthdays and graduations, to elbow-bumps in place of handshakes. One of the more challenging differences of living through a pandemic, though, is going to be the holiday season, starting with celebrating Thanksgiving.

Typically, people travel to see family and friends, visit multiple homes on Thanksgiving and the days around it. Many people enjoy getting out with friends to local bars and restaurants. None of that, however, is safe in 2020 with COVID-19 increasing it’s hold on our communities and our health.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in 2020 may not be what we are all used to, but it can still be full of good food, friendly faces, and happy memories without risking anyone’s health and safety.

Tips for Thanksgiving 2020

  • Hold a Thanksgiving dinner just for your immediate family in your home.
  • Enjoy the beautiful Central Arizona weather and visit neighbors outdoors and with some distance between you.
  • Share your favorite recipes with friends and family, rather than making and bringing food to a big group Thanksgiving.
  • Delivering meals to isolated friends, family, or others in the community in a safe way.
  • Virtual Thanksgiving dinner with loved ones near or far.

Remember, that while health is critically important with COVID around, we also need to take care of our mental and emotional well-being. Seeing faces on screens and hearing voices over the phone doesn’t take the place of in-person holiday gatherings, but it is much better than not having that interaction at all. Relationships and seeing people you love – even on a screen that has grandma’s thumb covering it half the time – are so important.

Enjoy and embrace something new when you celebrate Thanksgiving, and remember to call, text, video chat, and safely visit (with masks or at a distance) with people you care about. If you need additional support from a counselor or community resources, reach out to the NOAH team for more information about services to support you and your family so you have a happy, healthy time celebrating Thanksgiving.