Physician FAQ: COVID-19 Edition
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Our entire world has drastically changed since January 2020. Currently, Cooper Clinic physicians are most frequently asked about the COVID-19 vaccines possible treatment options and the new strains of the virus. If you have questions, you are not alone! Emily Hebert, MD, Cooper Clinic Platinum Physician, provides clarity and perspective through this FAQ session to help you make an educated decision concerning the massive amount of information that surrounds COVID-19.
Let’s talk vaccines
Q: Are the vaccines safe?
A: With so much information in the media, what is accurate and what is not? First and foremost my patients want to know if the vaccines are safe and if it is something they need. For example, if they’re a young person who doesn’t mind wearing a mask, is it still important to be vaccinated? Many patients also ask me if their kids who are under 18 or even under 16 should be vaccinated when it becomes available.
It’s always nerve-wracking when we have a new vaccine, treatment or medication released. No one wants to consider themselves a guinea pig for something that hasn’t been well-vetted. With viruses prior to COVID-19, four years—from the beginning of the outbreak—was the fastest a vaccine had been developed for use among the mass population. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in a mere nine-month time span. Numerous people were involved in the vaccine trials and thus far the outcome has been positive from the millions who have already been vaccinated in the United States, aside from a few minor allergic reactions—which can happen with any vaccine or medication.
There is always the discussion of risk-benefit ratio; however, in order for us to stop the pandemic, we must develop immunity to the virus in some way, shape or form. In years where more people get the flu shot, we have less flu cases and flu-related deaths. The same thing will happen with the COVID-19 vaccine. It is certainly important for people of high risk—those over the age of 65 or those who have chronic medical conditions involving the lungs and heart or those with autoimmune diseases—to receive the vaccine.
Q: Which vaccine should I get?
A: I tell my patients to get whichever vaccine they can get their hands on faster. There is a very small difference in their effectiveness. Most commonly those who receive the Pfizer vaccine often experience a more prominent immune reaction of headaches, body aches and chills in comparison to the Moderna vaccine.
Q: If I’m not already on the Phase 1B list, how do I become eligible?
A: At Cooper Clinic we strictly follow the 1B guidelines set by Dallas County. The current administration is hoping to dispense 150 million doses by March 2021. As with any new vaccine, there isn’t a stockpile of it so the vaccine must be made and then administered.
Even after receiving the vaccine, we need to continue wearing our masks and taking the necessary precautions as we don’t fully understand the lasting implications of COVID-19. While the vaccine has a 95% success rate of protecting one against COVID-19, you could still spread the virus to others while not becoming infected.
Potential treatment options
Q: Which treatment option is best if I contract COVID-19?
A: Of all of the available COVID-19 treatments at this point in time, none of them have received an endorsement from the Infectious Disease Society of America. The primary treatments still being studied include monoclonal antibody treatment and remdesivir antiviral treatment. It is important to remember these treatments are not the cure all—some people who have received the monochromal antibody and remdesivir treatments have still succumbed to COVID-19.
The Infectious Disease Society deemed another possible treatment method of hydroxychloroquine to have much more severe side effects than the other treatments. Also, we are waiting on more peer-reviewed data to determine who the ivermectin drug works best for. Bottom line is there is no cure thus far and our best offense is a good defense—in this case, that means the vaccine.
Here at Cooper Clinic, we talk about prevention every day. Preventing COVID-19—by wearing masks, social distancing and staying away from big crowds—is going to be the best way of preventing mortality and morbidity. While this can be hard to continue when we are experiencing COVID-19 fatigue, it’s important we keep our eye on the prize.
Q: What are the long-term complications of COVID-19?
A: Some Cooper Clinic patients who contracted COVID-19 but were never even hospitalized have since shown cardiac, respiratory, cognitive and neurological problems. Focusing on the mortality of COVID-19 is shortsighted because in perspective the death rate is a low percentage. However, the morbidity of COVID-19, or the long-term effects, is significant and we will be dealing with the effects for years to come. It is a much more complicated, bigger picture than just the death rate of the virus. We must also consider its lasting effects—many of which are still unclear.
New strains of COVID-19
Q: How are the newest strains of COVID-19 different?
A: We know of at least three new strains—one coming from the UK, one from South Africa and one from Brazil. These new strains are thought to be more contagious. Some of the data from the UK indicates there may be a higher mortality rate associated with these new strains; however, more clinical data is needed to draw any kind of conclusion.
It is important to be cautious but not sensationalize these new strains. We know viruses mutate because a virus’s main goal is survival. This is why the flu vaccine changes every year—because the flu strains continue to mutate in order to survive. The key is to follow the data and the cases—so far Moderna and Pfizer representatives have both stated they feel confident their vaccines are effective against the new strains. A positive note about MRNA vaccines is unlike some of the older vaccines that have to be made in an egg and take time to be grown, the MRNA vaccines are easy to manipulate and quick to make. If we find one of the available COVID-19 vaccines is not effective, it isn’t difficult to change. Also like the flu vaccine, even if we have a year where the flu vaccination isn’t very effective, the data still supports lower mortality rates and severity of flu cases by getting immunized.
Q: Where can I seek credible answers to my questions?
A: I highly recommend referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. The CDC information on the vaccine is helpful as it explains how people with certain allergies might respond adversely to the vaccine. The CDC also provides great detail about quarantine and when to be tested. I encourage people to follow this trusted source of data rather than media sites that can be short on information. It is also helpful to look at your local county government’s website where COVID-19 statistics are posted including your county’s positivity rate, hospitalizations and mortality rate. Some counties have even broken down local COVID-19 numbers into zip codes for further detail.
Finally, I highly recommend supplementing a healthy diet with vitamin D, zinc, vitamin C, quercetin and 40 mg of Pepcid per day to power up your immunity and better protect yourself against COVID-19.
To learn more about Cooper Clinic preventive exams, click here, or to learn more about Cooper Clinic Platinum 24/7 preventive and primary care, click here.
Article provided by Emily Hebert, MD, Cooper Clinic Platinum Physician.