Northwestern Medicine pharmacy director urges community to get COVID-19 vaccine

As delta variant sweeps through DeKalb County, Marlo Larson also encourages mask-wearing, good hygiene habits especially around those not eligible for vaccine

DeKALB – A local in-patient hospital pharmacy director is reiterating the importance of getting vaccinated from COVID-19, especially as the delta variant sweeps through Illinois.

Marlo Larson, director of inpatient pharmacy at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee and Valley West hospitals, said the most common thing she hears from patients is “I’ve had COVID-19, so I don’t need to be vaccinated.”

“So there’s some misunderstanding with the population that they had COVID in the past, so they don’t believe they need to be vaccinated,” Larson said. “And I would say that is it is not true.”

Larson recommends patients who have contracted COVID-19 should still get the vaccine once they are out of isolation and past the initial illness.

“There are no studies that show that you having COVID-19 in the past will protect you from a future infection with COVID-19,” Larson said. “However, the vaccine has been shown to produce a longer-term protection against the virus.”

Larson said there also are no studies that support patients who already had COVID-19 having to get only one dose of a two-dose vaccine. She said the recommendation is still to get both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or just the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Larson said the first dose is meant to introduce the body to the COVID-19 antigens so the body can start creating its immune response, whereas the second dose is meant to help create a more robust immunity to the virus.

“If you’re not getting the second dose of that Pfizer or the Moderna, it just could mean that you are not at that full immunity,” Larson said. “So you would have potentially less protection.”

Larson said the side effects for the vaccines are “generally very mild and limited.”

“In general, most of the people that I have spoken to have felt unwell for maybe 12 hours, 14 hours,” Larson said. “ ... Whereas having COVID-19, your symptoms can be much more severe.”

Larson said the mRNA vaccines work by taking the COVID-19 virus’s spike protein code, which tricks the body into thinking it’s actually the virus, and that’s how the body will create that immune response. She said the mRNA technology that is used in the vaccine has been used in cancer research for decades.

“It is the first vaccine that’s come on the market with the technology, but they have used this and have been studying this for several decades,” Larson said. “So it is not a new technology.”

Larson said some research still has yet to come about virus transmission among the vaccinated. She said health officials know being vaccinated protects patients from hospitalization and death, “but there still is that possibility that you can transmit that virus.”

“I think that the Olympics are really kind of bringing this to light,” Larson said. “So you have these Olympic athletes that are – I don’t know their vaccination status, so I can’t speak to that – ... healthy people. They’re not ill, they’re not showing any symptoms, they’re not showing illness, but they’re testing positive because they’ve been in contact with someone who has it or someone who has transmitted it. So they may have it on their person.”

With that, Larson said it’s still a good idea to mask up and keep practicing good hygiene – especially for the sake of those who aren’t eligible for the vaccine yet.

Larson said the community needs to “not forget that we still are in this pandemic.” Because people didn’t jump on getting vaccinated as much when it was first possible, she said, that has allowed the virus to mutate.

“So now we are seeing these variants, which is causing ... these rising cases again,” Larson said. “And so vaccination is the only thing that’s going to stop that from spreading.”