What you need to know about getting vaccinated

January 19, 2021
Dr. Scheurer receiving first dose of Pfizer vaccine.
Practicing what she preaches: Dr. Danielle Scheurer gets the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on day one of the rollout. Photo by Sarah Pack

Most people are either naturally optimistic or pessimistic. 

The world is very clear to them. The glass is either half full or half empty. 

But when it comes to dealing with the realities of a pandemic, a massive vaccine rollout, still increasing COVID infection numbers, Danielle Scheurer, M.D., MUSC Health System chief quality officer, doesn’t have that luxury. She has to be both rolled into one.

So when it comes to our world’s current situation, here’s the bad news, according to Scheurer: “People have a nostalgic dream of returning to a pre-COVID world, but that’s just not going to happen.”

Headshot of Scheurer 
Danielle Scheurer, M.D.

But here’s the good news: “Can we return to life as we know it with some minor interruptions? The answer is probably yes. We’re just going to have to figure out the safest way to resume most in-person activities, but things like travel are still going to be difficult.” 

Scheurer is in charge of all things vaccine at MUSC. Sounds simple enough on paper, but what does the job really entail?

“My biggest responsibility is trying to match demand, supply and work force,” she said. “My role is to maximize all three, but when one gets bottlenecked, I need to jump in and make improvements or adjustments.” 

For instance, for this week, MUSC Health requested 20,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. MUSC Health normally receives its weekly shipments on Mondays or Tuesdays, and just days before its anticipated arrival, the health system learned it would only be getting around 7,000 doses. 

“I’m playing vaccine whack-a-mole,” she said. “When things like that change, it obviously changes how many people can be seen and how many team members are needed to administer those doses.” According to Scheurer, this is the fifth week of vaccine administration at MUSC, and each week the amount received has been different. 

“That makes it tough,” she said. “Three of the five weeks, we got all we asked for, one we got 80% and this time we got 30%. If this is the amount we’re going to be getting going forward, we may have to start canceling on patients. And that’s the worst thing I can possibly think of,” she said.

With the vaccine landscape changing almost daily, each week going forward, we will check in with Scheurer and ask her the most pertinent questions that are hanging in the balance. 

Q. What phase of vaccination are we currently in, and who does that include?

A. We are calling it 1a – health care providers and workers in health care settings – though at the direction of the governor, we have now lumped people ages 70 and older in that group.

Q. What is the experience of receiving the vaccine like? 

A. It’s quick, and the shot itself is relatively painless. Then, after you get the dose, we recommend you stay 15 minutes for monitoring. That’s basically looking for any sort of allergic reaction. If nothing happens in that time, you’re basically good to go.

Q. How do those eligible people sign up?

A. They can simply visit the website. Then all they need is proof of employment in health care or proof of age.

Q. How many people are we vaccinating a day?

A. It started at around 1,000, but right now, we’re up to about 3,000-4,000. However, if the amount of vaccine we receive each week doesn’t increase, that will mean we’ve got enough for about two days until the following week’s delivery.

Q. What can people expect after they are vaccinated?

A. Some people might feel less than perfect. The second dose symptoms are typically more intense, which isn’t unusual for two-step vaccines. We’ve found that about 20% of people had notable side effects after first dose and 80% after the second. I tell people to plan on not feeling good the next day or two after they get the second dose. Not necessarily “missing work bad,” but they’re not going to feel great. But I also tell them, it’s a hell of lot better than getting COVID.

Q. Does the new more rapidly spreading variant change the efficacy of the vaccine?

A. Coronaviruses are notorious for mutations. So that COVID-19 would do this is no real surprise. Right now, the vaccine works just as well on this variant, so there’s no worry there for now. However, the question we as health care providers have to keep an eye on down the road is, "Do these mutations eventually affect the behavior of the virus such that it renders vaccines ineffective?" But here’s some more good news: The way the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are made, they target the spike protein, and that’s the part that’s mutating. So synthesizing a new version of the vaccine should be something we’re able to do relatively quickly.

**Have a question you'd like answered? Email it to donovanb@musc.edu with the subject line "Vaccine Q."