Amaal Tokars

Amaal Tokars, assistant director at the Illinois Department of Public Health, addresses the audience of KCC’s COVID-19 myths and facts panel Thursday.

Dispelling misinformation has been nearly as difficult for health officials as quelling the COVID-19 virus itself.

To that end, Amaal Tokars, assistant director at the Illinois Department of Public Health, took part in a COVID-19 vaccination “myths and facts” online discussion Thursday at Kankakee Community College.

Tokars took on the role of “Myth Buster.”

Tokars spoke on the ongoing high rates of coronavirus transmission in the United States, the contentious nature of discussing vaccinations and our interconnectedness as people.

Questions addressed included pre-submitted queries from college and community members, as well as questions typed into the Zoom session.

Should we be for or against hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin being used to treat COVID-19?

“Neither of these medications, at this time, are fully accepted or approved for human COVID-19 treatment,” Tokars said. “However, that does not mean that they will not have a future use for COVID-19 treatment. Both of these are continuing to be studied.”

Tokars warned individuals to be careful about creating dichotomies where something is “all good” or “all bad.”

“In fact, it’s very important for us to learn more about both these kinds of medications,” she said.

What evidence is there on the safety of getting vaccinated during pregnancy?

The clinical trials of the vaccines included pregnant people, but did not specifically study them as a group, Tokars said, so it’s difficult to be definitive.

“There are many persons that have been expecting and have taken these vaccines safely,” she said. “Still, any individuals that are concerned about these vaccines should go ahead and consult their primary care physician.”

Tokars added that because the vaccine has been widely available for several months now, individuals can take COVID vaccination options into account during the family planning process.

Why should people who have had COVID get vaccinated?

Tokars said that the scientific community currently agrees natural immunity lasts for around 90 days based on research, and some people recovering may choose to wait that long before getting vaccinated.

“For diseases that are dangerous to you, you don’t want to contract the sickness so that you can gain immunity, especially when that immunity is very temporary,” she said.. “So a longer term immunity, a longer term protection can be provided from the vaccine and your getting the vaccine is a much safer experience than getting the illness.”

Why do some vaccines last a lifetime and others don’t?

Some vaccines are made using a live virus and give very potent protection, Tokars said, including some common childhood vaccines.

“But this vaccine for COVID-19 is not a live vaccine. And so the protection is very potent, but it is not considered necessarily to be for a lifetime,” she said. “We actually don’t know what the answer is to how long this vaccine is going to last and whether or not we will need annual boosters, so there’s more to learn.”

What is the risk for hospitalization for vaccinated versus unvaccinated people?

“It is much higher for persons that are unvaccinated. There are individuals that have had breakthrough infection,” Tokars said. “Breakthrough means you’re vaccinated, and you can still get the infection. Know that vaccination provides enormous protection for us, but not perfect protection. And we still have to be careful.”

Who of the vaccinated population are we seeing breakthrough infections in most commonly?

“Individuals that were not protecting themselves in other ways, individuals that are immunocompromised and many of our elders who are also going to have weakened immunity, but not just elders,” Tokars said.

She noted that the elderly have been the most affected by the virus and also the most active at taking protection against it.

“It’s really important that we see the example of elders and know that getting vaccinated is not just about us, it’s about living in a connected collective society,” she said. “We are all connected. That is how the pandemic happened.”

Digital Content Editor

Meredith Melland earned a BA in journalism from DePaul University, where she worked as a web developer and editor for 14 East, DePaul's online student magazine. She has interned for Chicago magazine and WGN. Her email is mmelland@daily-journal.com.