The pandemic has entered a new phase with the rollout of two different vaccines, even as infection rates continue to hit new highs across the country and across Ohio. With new variants entering the country from abroad, questions and uncertainties abound.
To get all the latest info, we spoke with Dr. Chad Braun, Chief Medical Officer at Equitas Health.
Before we talk about vaccines, what do we need to know about these new strains of COVID that are in the news?
These new strains are definitely present in the United States. They seem to be about 50% more contagious, so they are more easily transmissible. They’re not necessary more virulent or causing worse disease. But they’re causing more disease period, and causing more disease will cause more deaths even if the new strain isn’t any stronger than the old strain. There’s no reason to think that the new variant won’t continue to spread in the United States. It hasn’t been isolated in Ohio yet, but we don’t do a lot of sequencing yet across the country. I’m sure that the prevalence here is higher than we know.
The first good news is that it is thought that vaccines will work against the new variant, especially the strain from the United Kingdom.
The other good news about some of the vaccines is that they can be adjusted to help with these newer variants. It doesn’t mean starting over. But it would be great to get a good vaccination program and a lot of immunity out there before a new strain enters into the system.
How would you grade how the vaccine rollout is going?
Everyone can see that the vaccine rollout has had some challenges. It’s unfortunate that we are struggling with the first wave of vaccinations made up primarily of healthcare workers and people in extended care facilities and nursing homes who are above the age of 80-years-old—people easily identified and located.
Struggling with these populations doesn’t portend well for the same strategy moving forward. There seems to be a lot of challenge around understanding how many doses are actually out there and what the process is to get those vaccines into people’s arms. We’re hoping for more clarity around that in the next few weeks to months.
What misinformation are you hearing out there about vaccines that we can correct straightaway?
The biggest misinformation is about concerns associated with speed of development. No safety steps were skipped. I was in line the first possible minute of the first possible day that I was able to get vaccinated.
There’s some misinformation about the mRNA vaccines and how they might change your genetic material. That’s not true. The genetic material that’s used in the vaccine does not go into the nucleus of the cell. It degrades prior to that.
There are some concerns about fertility that I have heard expressed. These vaccines haven’t been studied on pregnant women or on a lot of specific populations. But the recommendation has been to get the vaccine in almost all of these cases.
How do we approach vaccine rollout in communities where there is distrust, like communities of color where there might be cultural barriers based on past history?
I think a lot of the importance there is education about the vaccine and its efficacy. The alternative to getting the vaccine is COVID and there are very real dangers with that.
We have to recognize that a lot of these concerns in minority communities are indeed well-founded in previous experience and we need to be able to explain how this current experience is different. We know that the vaccines have been well-studied in minority populations and we need to get that information out there.
I think it’s important for people to see people like them getting vaccinated. Access and information needs to be made easily available, scheduling needs to be easily available, and everyone needs to be able to sit down, discuss concerns and get their questions answered.
I would highly recommend looking the Ohio Department of Health’s vaccine site which has information on vaccines and scheduling, but also has information around common misconceptions about vaccines.
Any latest information on the intersections between vaccines and the LGBTQ+ community?
I think the biggest thing is that we recommend that anyone living with HIV get vaccinated regardless of their CD4 count. We’re not sure yet if HIV will be one of the qualifying conditions that will allow people to get vaccinations after this current 1B phase. But the good news is that people who are living with HIV are doing just as well if they get COVID as age-matched people with the same comorbid conditions. HIV doesn’t seem to be something that makes COVID worse as long as you’re on an antiretroviral therapy with a suppressed viral load.
Final thoughts on the vaccines?
We’re going to recommend vaccination in pretty much everyone. We really need to get to a vaccine level of about 75-80% to get to herd immunity. If you’ve had COVID, you still should get vaccinated. The thought is you should wait 2-3 months after your symptoms have cleared. The immune response to the vaccine is more consistent and more significant than some COVID infections. People who have already had COVID don’t have to rush out there, but within 2-3 months it would be when we recommend vaccination.
- Check out the Ohio Department of Health website for the latest vaccine information.
- Seriously: wear a mask.