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.

Recognizing the Impact of Antibiotics

By Cody Randel

Antibiotics save and improve countless lives every day. However, antibiotic resistance is something we need to understand and face together. November 18 – 24 is Antibiotic Awareness Week in the U.S. and World Antimicrobial Awareness Week on a global scale. Antimicrobial resistance of any kind can impact everyone.

Antibiotics are part of the antimicrobial family, which also includes antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics. These medicines kill infections and diseases. Without them, humans will have a much more difficult time fighting and surviving diseases. Fortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) saw this growing problem and has made it a priority. Because diseases become more difficult to treat as antibiotic resistance increases, it will make all antimicrobials less effective.

WHO’s Five Goals to Tackle Antimicrobial Resistance

  • Raise awareness 
  • Increase monitoring and research
  • Reduce infections
  • Maximize the use of antimicrobial medications 
  • Sustainable investment in new medicines, diagnostic tools, vaccines, and other interventions

We rely on antibiotics to help us recover from what may seem like minor illnesses today. But these illnesses could become life-threatening if antibiotic resistance increases.

Preventing Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance is increasing in all parts of the world. Changing this is a big job that requires all of us to do our part. Here are six ways you can help:

  • Only use antibiotics prescribed to you by a certified health professional.
  • Never demand antibiotics from your health worker. If you need them, they will prescribe them.
  • Always follow directions for taking medications.
  • Never share any prescriptions.
  • Prevent illnesses by washing your hands and staying away from people who are sick.
  • Get vaccinated and stay up to date on seasonal vaccines like flu.

If you have questions about medications you are taking, or about vaccines you may need, talk to your healthcare provider. If you don’t have a primary care provider, request an appointment with one of our providers.

It’s Time For Your Flu Shot

By Dr. Nikita Mathew, DO PGY1

“Every year, 10 to 40 million people are affected by the influenza virus, resulting in 140,000 to 960,000 hospitalizations annually.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Flu season typically runs from October through February every year. One of the best ways to stay healthy is with the vaccine anytime during the flu season. Flu symptoms include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • sore throat
  • body aches

5 common questions about the flu vaccine

  1. Can I get the flu shot? Everyone over the age of 6 months is eligible for the flu vaccine. This includes special populations such as pregnant women, adults with chronic health conditions, and those over 65 years old. Exceptions to the flu vaccine are very limited, and include children less than 6 months old and those who had severe allergic reactions to the flu vaccine. You may have heard that those with egg allergies cannot get the flu shot, but the CDC recommends that these individuals still get the vaccine, but they may need to be monitored briefly afterward in a healthcare setting for allergic symptoms. There are also egg-free vaccines available.
  2. Why do I have to get the flu shot every year? The influenza virus changes year to year, so the flu vaccine you got last year likely will not protect you from the specific strain that is widespread this year. Researchers develop vaccines that will fight this year’s particular strain of the virus to maximize your protection. In addition, your immunity decreases over time so getting the vaccine annually helps build up your immunity again.
  3. When should I get the vaccine? The influenza virus is seasonal, typically starting in mid-October and peaking in winter. Your body will produce sufficient antibodies within two weeks after getting the vaccine. This is why the CDC recommends getting your flu shot sometime between September and late October. However, it’s never too late to get one, even past October. Flu shots will continue to be available well into winter and can protect you from the remainder of the flu season.
  4. Why do I feel like I have the flu after getting the shot? The flu vaccine contains an inactivated strain of the virus, meaning it cannot cause the flu but it does trigger your body’s immune response. This can result in body aches or a low-grade fever, but these symptoms are significantly less severe than those caused by the actual flu virus and resolve in 1-2 days, if present at all.
  5. How will the flu season be affected by COVID-19? Getting the flu shot is important every year, but especially this year in light of COVID-19. The pandemic has already stretched hospitals and healthcare resources pretty thin. Being vaccinated against the flu and reducing the risk of hospitalization is essential to help avoid an overlapping peak of influenza and coronavirus this winter. The flu shot will not make you more or less susceptible to COVID-19 since the viruses are completely separate.

Getting vaccinated not only helps protect you, but also helps protect your community and eases the burden on hospitals and the healthcare industry. Flu shots are currently available at NOAH clinics, so schedule an appointment today!

2019-2020 Influenza Vaccine Season – FAQ

By: Taylor Lukas, PA-C

Every year, the influenza virus causes unwanted, often severe, upper respiratory infections across the US during the months of October-May.

Influenza viruses A and B are the culprits for these infections, and if contracted, can cause

  • high fevers
  • severe coughing
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • other upper respiratory symptoms

Consequences of this infection can range from physical discomfort and missed days from work for a young, healthy adult, to potentially severe and life-threatening complications for small children, chronically ill adults, pregnant women, and the elderly population. In the 2018-2019 season, the CDC estimated there were over 530,000 hospitalizations and over 37,000 deaths associated with influenza! Fortunately, we have an annual vaccine that targets the anticipated strains of the virus for that season and can help reduce our risk of infection! Below are a few commonly asked questions and concerns regarding the flu vaccine to help you make an informed decision.

Who should get the influenza vaccine, and when?

The flu vaccine is recommended by the CDC for all patients over 6 months of age (that do not have a contraindication to the vaccine). The vaccine is HIGHLY recommended for any adult with chronic medical conditions such as

  • asthma/COPD
  • diabetes
  • chronic kidney or liver disease
  • HIV
  • cancer
  • morbid obesity
  • elderly patients >65 years of age
  • pregnant women are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated due to risks associated with contracting the virus during pregnancy.

The ideal time to be vaccinated is before November, however it is beneficial to be vaccinated at any time during the flu season!

I am fairly healthy and don’t get sick often! Why do I need to get the influenza vaccine?

Even if the virus may not be more than an inconvenience to you, it could mean a life-threatening situation if you are to accidentally pass it along to an elderly or sick individual! You are helping protect others that may be unable to get the vaccine, as well as yourself, when you get vaccinated! Additionally, if you do catch the flu despite getting the vaccine, immunization is shown to reduce the SEVERITY and LENGTH of the illness, which allows you to get back to feeling better faster!

I always feel under the weather after I get the flu vaccine. Can I get sick from the flu vaccine?

The influenza vaccine typically administered contains an inactivated (dead) virus, so it is impossible to contract influenza from the vaccine itself. The most common side effect of a flu vaccine is arm soreness for 2-3 days after administration. Some patients report experiencing a mild headache, fatigue, or body aches after receiving the vaccine, however studies do not support a direct relationship between the vaccine itself and these symptoms. These mild potential side effects pale in comparison to the influenza symptoms that you will have protection from!

The start of the 2019-2020 influenza season is quickly approaching! Please come in and see us at any of our NOAH locations to receive a flu vaccine! Your medical provider can answer any additional questions or concerns at your office visit, and choose the flu vaccine that is appropriate for you! Here’s to a happy and healthy winter season!

The Measles – Are You Vaccinated?

By Chris Sweeney, RN – Quality Manager
“The measles is a serious and highly contagious disease that can spread quickly, so if you or your child are not vaccinated against the disease there is a risk of getting measles,” says Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Read more

Measles – Answers to All Your Questions!

By Dr. Amit Jain, Pediatrician

What is measles?
It is a once common childhood illness, now much rarer, thanks to the advent of the measles vaccine.
Read more

And the award goes to …

“I’m especially proud of the #teen #award as it’s our 4th year in a row for NOAH Heuser Family Medicine Center. Our staff are doing an amazing job in promoting & educating our patients about vaccinations. We’re doing our part to #immunize those that are able to receive #vaccines,” says Melody Dockery-Chleva, Practice Manager at NOAH Heuser Family Medicine Center. Are your child’s #vaccinations up to date? Schedule an annual well-child visit & find out! Don’t forget to bring your #shotrecords. To schedule an apt., please call 480-882-4545!

What to Know About HPV and Cervical Cancer


Nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with #CervicalCancer each year. A preventable disease with vaccination and appropriate screening (Pap and HPV tests). We are highlighting the issues related to cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (#HPV) and the importance of early detection. Have you scheduled your well-woman visit lately? Has your child received their HPV vaccines yet? Call and schedule today 480-882-4545! #familypractice #pediatrics #CervicalHealthAwarenessMonth

2018 NOAH Desert Mission Back to School Health Checks

Last Saturday we hosted an awesome Back to School event at our Desert Mission Community Health Center providing FREE Back-to-school health checks! A special thanks to our friends at BHHS Legacy Foundation @MercyCare for their generous support of our programs and services.

2018 NOAH Palomino Back to School Health Checks

Last Saturday we hosted an awesome Back to School event at our Palomino Health Center providing FREE Back-to-school health checks! A special thanks to our friends @MercyCare for their generous support of our programs and services. Saturday, August 11, 2018 is our last FREE Back-to-School event from 9-3pm @ our Desert Mission Community Health Center. Learn more and schedule at KIDS.NOAHHELPS.ORG or call 480-882-4545! Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers – AACHC National Association of Community Health Centers #NHCW18 #CHCSuperPower #ValueCHCs