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COVID-19 Update 6/9: Vaccine Updates, Variant Names, and More

COVID-19 | Facebook Live Recap

On this COVID-19 update, Dr. Steven Bishop provides an update on vaccine EUAs, the naming conventions for variants, and more. Watch the full video below and read on for a recap. 

Vaccine Updates

One of the biggest things that have come out is the continuing advance of the research on the vaccines in terms of the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine.

They're both moving forward with their testing phases for younger and younger kids. And Pfizer, of course, has been approved under the EUA for 12 to 15-year-olds.

And Moderna is expecting to seek EUA approval for their vaccine for 12 to 17-year-olds this month, so hopefully, there'll be a second option out for people for that. And I think Johnson & Johnson is also working on that as well.

I know that Pfizer is expecting to have studies on the two to 11-year-old population done by September. So that's more good news and moving the science forward.

I know also that Moderna is going to be seeking full FDA approval for their vaccine in the coming month as well, which is great. Remember, all the current vaccines are on the market are under an emergency use authorization, meaning they don't yet meet all the normal characteristics and qualities and data requirements that are needed for full approval, like any other drug or vaccine.

But they're getting there very quickly. And so Moderna, I think we'll hopefully have a full approval fairly soon. I'm sure Pfizer will be right on their heels getting that done too. That's all good.

Vaccination Progress

As a result of the vaccines continuing to be rolled out, I know in Virginia here we have about 46% of our population that has received both vaccines,or they're fully vaccinated, which is excellent.

The percent of the adult population that's fully vaccinated is 57% and 68% with at least one dose. we are getting there fairly rapidly with the vaccines.

New Variant Names

A natural question that's been coming up of late. Okay. We've got the vaccines. That's great. But we keep hearing about all these variants coming up in the news.

There's a British variant, the Indian variant. There's always something — the South Africa variant — that's always coming up.

A couple of interesting things have gone on in relation to that. One thing is that the scientists are going to try to make this a little bit easier for us to track. They're actually going to change the way they name these variants.

They had these crazy naming conventions right now where they're called B-117, this, and that. And it's impossible to remember what they are.

We're also trying to get away from using names that are highly attached to a particular place, like the UK variant, the Indian variant, whatever, because it doesn't really have anything to do with that country in particular. We don't want to malign them for the variant having shown up in their country.

So they're going to change the naming conventions to Greek letters. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, those sorts of things. For instance, the Indian variant is now going to be called the Delta variant for future reference. And they're going to call the Britain, the UK one, the alpha variant, and the South Africa one will be beta, et cetera. I think that'll make things actually a little bit easier to talk about and track without having to remember what all the crazy names of the variants are.

Related to that, the variant news, there's a quick article from NPR about the Delta variant. We'll call it that from now on. The Delta variant is spreading in most places and, we're going to see this theme recur with the virus.

Any time the virus mutates a bit, if it gets a little bit better at spreading, it's going to become the dominant variant eventually in most places. First, locally, wherever it shows up, and then it'll spread globally for the most part.

And that's just the way evolution and natural selection function. So that will happen, of course, unless we get the transmission rates down extremely low.

Now, the good news is that with all these variants, including this Delta variant, that have shown up, the vaccines that are out there seem to provide pretty good coverage, which is great. I think for now we can feel pretty good that the vaccines we have are safe, they're effective, and they will be protecting us for most of these variants that are going to be showing up in the coming years.

That could change of course at any time, which is why people are surveilling the emergence of these variants all the time and testing them against the existing vaccines.

I continue to suspect, at some point, we're going to need boosters for the vaccines if the virus does change too much for the coverage to be significant in the existing vaccines. But hopefully, we are a little bit away from that in terms of months to hopefully longer.

Cases Continue to Decline

Good news, too, along with the ongoing improvement in vaccinations across the country, and in Virginia here locally, cases are continuing to decline overall, which is excellent.

Now in Virginia, we're down around a hundred or fewer cases across the state every day, which is great. Back in the early spring and in the winter, we were looking at a couple of thousand cases a day. We're many, many folds away from that, which is great.

Hospitalizations are down to around 10 or less a day. And that's also continued to be in the low, under 10 range. The last several days, there's just been one or zero reported for the most part the last few days, which is great news.

All good things. The national case numbers are down. The national death rates are down. Still too high, you know, still too high, but much lower. About a third of where they were back in the spring and the winter.

Therapeutics Update

"Any new therapeutic news or research?"

Not anything earth-shattering that I have seen. There've been a few more studies coming out related to ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and a few others, but nothing new or groundbreaking that I have seen lately that looks overly promising. We'll see.

I think the story on some of these other repurposed drugs, like the hydroxychloroquine, the ivermectin, that's got some more time to tell. The ongoing research on that is going to take years before we really have definitive answers.

I do know that Pfizer is working on an oral version of Remdesivir or similar to that. Hopefully, we'll have data on that in the coming months, but nothing new or earth shattering that we've got in terms of therapeutics now.

There was one other study that came out showing a higher steroid dose use was helpful in very ill patients. But not necessarily something that's going to be used for the routine sort of outpatient person, who's mild to moderately sick now.

We're still using the antibody treatments when those are needed, the monoclonal antibody treatments. Although, thankfully we haven't used them very much lately because our case numbers have gotten quite low, which is good.

And even here at our practice, our testing numbers are very low at this point. Most of the tests we're doing now are for people needing them for travel or some other related purpose, and not because they're actually sick or symptomatic.

Vaccines & Natural Immunity

"If you have already had COVID, does the vaccine impact your natural immunity?"

No, it should not. And if anything, it will boost it. What I have seen from time to time, and I don't have a lot of data to back this up, is that people who have been sick with COVID, when they get the vaccine, sometimes they feel a little crummier after the vaccine than people who did not have COVID first and then get the vaccine. That's just my anecdotal experience.

And I think it's because their immune systems are already pretty primed for the virus, so they get the vaccine dose and they respond a little bit more strongly because they've already been exposed to it. But no, there's no indication that it should impact your natural immunity in a negative way. It should only enhance that, but a good question.

Getting Back to Normal

"It's difficult for me to consider crowded venues without wearing a mask. I'm not fearful about COVID at this point. It just seems to make sense to protect from the general coughing and sneezing that goes on everywhere. I also notice that people get so close, I can feel their breath on my face. How am I in the minority about this?"

I think it's actually pretty common. A lot of people are having a kind of anxiety and difficulty adjusting back to not using masks.

I saw a funny sort of meme recently. It was on Facebook or somewhere saying, I can't believe I just used to let all of you breathe on me. And it's kind of a funny thing, but you know, getting back to a more normal way of doing things is a challenge for a lot of people.

You're not alone. A lot of people are experiencing that. I think it's just going to take time for us to get used to that again. So that's okay.

Vaccine If You Already Had COVID?

"I've been seeing where if you've had or had COVID that you don't need to get the vaccine. What do you think about that?"

The official recommendations are that people get vaccinated, even if they've had COVID. And I think for the many people that makes pretty good sense because a lot of people who have had COVID only had mild disease.

I think if you had mild disease, I'm not sure that it's really going to confer lasting immunity. Again, I don't have a huge amount of data to back that up. I do know that some studies have come out showing that even people with mild disease do have natural antibodies that persist for at least six months.

But I just don't know how much you want to bank on that, depending on your overall risk factors. If you're somebody who's at high risk for a bad outcome for COVID, I wouldn't bank on the natural immunity lasting for a very long time.

I would go ahead and get vaccinated, especially if you had a mild illness the first time.