By Carol Vaughn —
Dr. Anthony Fauci and a panel of three Virginia experts in a webinar for healthcare providers Tuesday answered some of the more than 2,000 questions providers submitted about COVID-19, the vaccines, and how to talk to vaccine-hesitant patients.
More than 5,000 healthcare professionals registered for the webinar, according to Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator.
“As a doctor, I know that many of you have been on the front line of this pandemic,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in opening remarks.
The webinar was held to give doctors the most up-to-date information to share with their patients, Northam said.
Just over 60% of Virginians have received at least one dose of vaccine and 54% are fully vaccinated, according to Northam.
In Accomack County, 50% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Northampton, 46.8% has been fully vaccinated.
Still, the seven-day percent positivity for tests is going up on the Shore. It now stands at 10.1 for Northampton and 15.69 for Accomack, as of Thursday, according to the CDC.
Accomack has reported 45 new cases and Northampton reported fewer than 10 cases in the past seven days, as of Thursday.
In Accomack, 14.29% of ICU beds in the hospital were in use for COVID patients over the last seven days, according to the CDC.
The CDC lists Accomack and Northampton both as having a high transmission rate as of Thursday.
Nearly 10 million vaccine doses have been administered in Virginia.
Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said 93 million eligible people in the United States still have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Fauci repeatedly emphasized the vaccines are safe and effective, even against the delta variant of the virus.
The vaccine still provides “very, very good protection against hospitalization and death,” he said.
Of total deaths resulting from COVID-19, 99.5% were among unvaccinated people.
Still, the delta variant is much more easily transmissible, he said, meaning even vaccinated people who are infected but asymptomatic can spread it. That’s why the CDC recently recommended both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks in indoor, public spaces in high-transmission areas.
The amount of viral load in the nasal pharynx of a person infected with the delta variant is around 1,000 times higher than with other variants, according to Fauci.
The vaccine protects from symptomatic infection from the delta variant “to the tune of about 80-plus percent,” somewhat lower than for the other variants, but still high, according to Fauci.
The vaccine provides very high protection against getting severe disease, even from the delta variant.
Many of the questions submitted were about how to address concerns that the vaccine was developed so quickly, being available less than a year after the virus was recognized.
“What is lost on the public is that 20 years of research…anti-dated the work that started in January 2020, so this was not rushed at all. This was the fruit of major, major investment in biomedical research,” he said, noting each vaccine was tested on between 30,000 and 44,000 in trials and since has been given to hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
“The real-world efficacy remains extremely high, particularly against hospitalizations and death, and the safety data is as good as you can get,” he said.
Fauci said he hopes the vaccines, which were approved by the FDA under emergency use authorization, will get full approval before the end of the month.
Asked about booster shots, Fauci said data from Israel and Pfizer appear to show immunity does wane over time.
The need to give a booster to immunocompromised people is “much more emergent than for the general population,” although it is not thought a booster is needed yet for those people, he said.
Officials are working to get the regulatory mechanism in place soon to get those individuals booster vaccinations.
The CDC and the companies are following the data on a weekly basis to see when immunity wanes.
“As soon as it looks like we need to give a booster, we are already prepared to give a booster because we’ve done the clinical trials to demonstrate the type of increase you get with a boost as well as the safety associated with a boost. Bottom line, we’re ready for it if and when it occurs,” Fauci said.
Children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, can be protected by being surrounded by vaccinated people and by wearing masks, including having everyone in schools wear a mask, Fauci said.
“We must get the children back to school in person in the fall. The deleterious consequences of keeping children out of school we know now, from a year and a half’s experience, is a profound problem. We’ve got to keep them in school, but we’ve got to protect them when they are in school,” he said.
Fauci said he does not expect another lockdown in the future because 60% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, 70% of adults have received at least one dose, and 80-90% of the elderly are vaccinated.
“If we get the overwhelming majority of the people who are unvaccinated vaccinated, we are going to do real well. If we don’t succeed in getting the overwhelming majority of the population, we are going to have smoldering infection that will prevent us from getting back to normal. … It will be kind of a chronic low level of infection, dominated by the unvaccinated people. So that’s the reason why we want to get people vaccinated, because we want to protect the unvaccinated now — to get them vaccinated so they don’t get sick and get hospitalized — but we also want to crush the transmission of the virus so all of us can get back to normal,” Fauci said.
Panel members, including Dr. Norman Oliver of the Virginia Department of Health, Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, director of the Fairfax Health Department, and Dr. Erin Brickly, a pediatrician in Marion, in southwest Virginia, urged healthcare providers to use every opportunity they have to encourage patients to get vaccinated.
“Use that trust that you earn every day,” Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in closing remarks.
“None of us is going to be fully safe until we are all safe,” he said.