Maryland and Virginia hit positive milestones in the battle against COVID-19, but a highly infectious variant is causing some concerns across the country. An infectious disease expert hopes to clear up some of the messaging regarding the coronavirus delta variant.
The kind of “doom-based messaging” surrounding the variant, first identified in India, is bothering Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.
“I want to really stress to people that we reached the point today, where 30 states have … one in 1 million people dying of COVID-19. We are getting to that 70% first dose in so many states, and there are places where cases are not surging, even when the full vaccination rate is not up to 70%, likely because of natural immunity,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said that the delta variant is likely more transmissible, but there’s no evidence that the variant is more virulent or vaccine-resistant.
She points to studies done in England and India that show that cases of the delta variant occurred in the unvaccinated who are still getting vaccinated, and that the variant is not causing more severe illness.
“What I would really care about is if a variant ever evaded our immune systems, either natural immunity or the vaccines. No evidence of that,” she said.
One study by Public Health England, has been misinterpreted, she said, to say that one dose reduced infections by only 33%, when that was only a couple of weeks or so after the first dose.
“And they just posted publicly that it looked like that was only within the first two weeks. If you waited till two weeks after your first dose, your efficacy was up higher than 33%,” Gandhi said.
When will the pandemic be considered over?
Two metrics have been proposed to determine when the pandemic is over.
Gandhi said that a lot people have said that when death rates reach 100 a day, that’s equivalent to what’s tolerated during influenza, that’s when it’s over. Currently, COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have dipped below 300 a day for the first time since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020.
The other metric is getting 10,000 cases a day or fewer.
“We’re at about 12 … 11,900. So it is not quite over, that is definitely true,” Gandhi said, adding that people should not get discouraged as many people are still accessing the vaccines.
Tips that could help convince people to get vaccinated
Gandhi has five tips that could help people decide to get vaccinated:
- Compassionate listening. What are people’s concerns? What do they want to hear about? She said this is important conversation that should be happening in doctor’s offices.
- Increase access and employers giving people time off to get the vaccine and recover from side effects.
- Acknowledging natural immunity. “Talk about that; explain to people maybe we don’t need to full doses after natural infection.”
- Talk about side effects. “Talk about these cases where cases of heart inflammation in young, younger people. And I think that if you talk about side effects, it actually increases transparency and trust,” Gandhi said.
- Walk away. There are going to be some people that you can’t persuade. “If at the end of the day you can’t persuade, have the compassion to walk away,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said after long conversations, she has persuaded six people to get vaccinated.
“It was that doctor-patient relationship that I was allowed to have with them for many years that persuaded them. And then one just said, ‘You know, what, drop it,’ and I did,” Gandhi said.
She said that she has a lot of positivity for the country, and things are going well. Her focus is to get vaccine doses to other countries and she hopes the rest of the county will think the same.
Does she still wear a mask?
“I try not to unless they make me because I really believe in the effectiveness of the vaccines. And I believe also that we have very low case rates, which we do in the city of San Francisco. So even my children who are unvaccinated, my one is unvaccinated, is safe. And I try to model good infectious disease (doctor) behavior, and I am not wearing a mask when I’m out and about,” Gandhi said.
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WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis contributed to this report.