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Dr. Rai expresses excitement for vaccine, antibody drug

Published: Nov. 10, 2020 at 7:35 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “It’s an exciting, great start.” That’s what Prevea Health President and CEO says about data from Pfizer on their COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Rai cautions we still need to take the steps of masking and socially distancing to get this pandemic under control while we wait for the vaccine.

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursday on Action 2 News This Morning. Have a question? Email news@wbay.com.

PFIZER VACCINE

Pfizer says data indicates its COVID-19 vaccine is 90 percent effective.

"It’s an exciting, great start. As we were looking at what would the possibilities in a vaccine be, a lot of us were thinking pretty similar to the influenza vaccine. About 40-60 percent effective. To hear 90 percent efficacy, and granted it’s still early to look at that, to look at 90 percent efficacy, you’re starting to talk about a measles vaccine or a chicken pox vaccine. You’re starting to talk about if enough people got vaccinated, you could eradicate the virus from our history. That’s pretty exciting news. Again, it’s early 90 percent. It’s not looking at all of the data yet. It’s about 94 people in the placebo arm, those who didn’t get the real vaccine that were infected. We want to see that number go up a little bit and compare it to the vaccine efficacy. So there’s still more data that needs to happen. And remember, we only have about half the data necessary to take this to the FDA for emergency use. We have the efficacy data, now we need to see the safety data. But all of it’s pointing in the right direction. And a lot of us right now are in that planning mode, because this is not going to be an easy vaccine to administer. It needs to be kept in a super cold environment. There’s four other vaccines that are going to be involved. This one takes two vaccinations, 28 days apart. So there’s a lot of steps that need to be planned. And there’s a lot of things going on in the country with COVID right now, as far as the surge goes. This vaccine is not going to get out to the public for months. We, in the interim, need to control this virus to prevent more death.

“Really, we’ve seen other smaller cases, in Ebola and other situations where things were fast tracked. But once again, the use was on a much smaller scale. Something fast tracked to an EUA at this large of a scale is unprecedented. As is the coronavirus is unprecedented.”

ANTIBODY DRUG APPROVED

The FDA approves Eli Lilly’s antibody drug.

“If I was smiling about the vaccine, I was laughing and giggly by the time I got the news on the antibody drug. What this is, if you think about getting the vaccine, it’s so your body would produce an antibody to the virus to prevent that virus from growing within you. The antibody drug is giving you an antibody that’s targeted at a protein, the spike protein of the virus, and prevents that virus from growing further in somebody who’s already infected. So basically it’s working with your own immune system and giving it a big jump at defeating the virus. And what it does, is it reduces the virus from spreading in the body or growing within the lungs. And what they did is they measured what the viral load would be if you got this drug versus not. And viral load means how much virus could they actually get out of your body at certain times after receiving the drug. This drug is not for people who are in the hospital. It’s not for people who are requiring oxygen. It’s for people who are at risk. So say you’re over the age of 65, or you’re overweight, or you have diabetes, and we know if you had COVID-19 and we let it get past a few days, you’re going to not do well. You’re going to do worse. Statistically, you’re the one who’s going to wind up in the hospital, you’re the one who’s going to wind up on oxygen, possibly. Or, you’re the one who’s possibly going to die from this. It’s to prevent that from happening. It’s getting to that patient very early. Getting the drug in them. It’s complicated, because once again, this is not a drug we’re going to give in the hospital. We’re going to give it in an outpatient setting. But it’s an IV drug. You need to be infused for an hour. We don’t want you in a regular infusion center with other patients who don’t have COVID. So we have to operationize all of that, and we’re thinking through that right now. And we have to have a lot of it. So 300,000 doses is not enough. So we need to hear more from the government today, and Lilly, on how we’re going to get this drug. But we’re pretty excited. I can think of four-to-five people right now on my list of patients under our care I could give it to this morning if I had it. So really excited. We want to give every patient every chance at survival. And this is the first thing that we really had to give to a patient that would allow them not to go to a hospital and possibly save their life before they got really sick.”

WISCONSIN TRENDS

“We have a lot of work to do here in Brown County and Wisconsin to get through this surge. All of these great advancements in the vaccine and the antibody only make sense if we can control the surge. We need to do a better job at the public gatherings. We need to do a better job at masking. And more importantly, we need to test, test and test. We need to test more people. We need to control the virus more. We need to expand that capability every day and get people to get tested. And I think that’s one of the hardest things you can do is you can have all the testing apparatus you want, but people still need to show up.”

RECOVERED PATIENTS AND VACCINE

Do people who have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19 need to get the vaccine?

“The studies done were done on people who don’t have COVID-19 or haven’t had it, to see if the vaccine would be effective against the virus. Those who were in the placebo arm, which is people not getting the actual vaccine, and getting the vaccine, one of the requirements to enter the trial is that they had not had COVID. We don’t have enough research on that yet. We’ll see how the researchers extrapolate that to people who have had COVID-19, not knowing how long their immunity would last. We’ll have to see what the FDA says about that extrapolation and research. There’s a lot of questions we still have as a medical community. It’s a great question. Probably next two to three weeks we’ll get an answer to it.”

COVID AND SURFACE LIFE

How long does COVID-19 live on surfaces?

"The CDC’s done a variety of studies and they’ve said an average of 24 hours. It’s important to understand that when a virus is on a surface, though, for you to be able to catch it, it means that your hands have to touch the viral particles on that surface, the virus still has to be alive, and then you have to get that viral particle into your mouth or nose. So it’s important, that’s why we really stress that hand sanitization. If your hands are clean before you touch your face, and wearing a mask helps prevent that, you shouldn’t be able to get it from a surface. But about 24 hours to answer that overall question.

COVID-19 AND FUNERAL SPREAD

Can COVID-19 spread from the dead to the living?

"Generally how the virus would be spread from a living person to another living person is that they would expel that into the air. Obviously someone who has expired is not going to be expelling that into the air. As long as we’re not having physical contact with the body, the risk should be low. The largest risk at a funeral situation is everybody else that is there. Maintaining distancing, keeping that crowd extremely small, and masked at all times is important. We’ve had way too many cases, very sad cases, where people have gotten COVID-19 and died from it from attending a funeral. So that’s probably the most important safety factor is everybody else around you that’s still living.

NATIONWIDE MASK MANDATE

Would a nationwide mask mandate significantly reduce COVID-19 cases?

"I don’t know what a mandate would be. I don’t know how it would be enforced. We know that everybody would be compliant with wearing masks the rate of transmission would go down. It wouldn’t be perfect, but we would get a decreased rate of transmission. Not sure how a mask mandate would be structured to accomplish that. Hopefully we would just encourage everybody to wear masks and they would comply. And they would wear them correctly over their nose and their mouth. And we would reduce transmission until we get better control over the virus.

TESTING NUMBERS AND REPEAT TESTS

Are numbers impacted by multiple tests?

“It’s a great question. Unfortunately some people who have tested positive keep getting tested when they don’t really need to. Sometimes employers are inappropriately asking for that repeat test. It’s important to understand that the DHS, the state, when they report their data, they filter that out. If you’ve tested positive once in 90 days, you test positive again, they’ve got your information. They filter out those repeat positive tests so they’re not presented in the data that you’re seeing. And their website does state that.”

MASKS AND POOL EXCERISE

Do people who do water walking exercises in a pool need to wear a mask?

"Those are indoor settings where you’re likely not going to be able to physically distance as much as you’d like to. If your head was submerged in the water, the chlorinated water would do something to the virus. But it’s not going to do anything to the virus if you’re water walking. Wearing a mask is important. It’s highly transmissible in that kind of situation because you’re close, you’re working out, which means you’re actually going to be breathing harder. So the radius needs even to be longer than six feet, sometimes 10-to-15 feet, in that setting. A mask would help, but it wouldn’t be perfect in that environment. So it’s important to maintain that distance plus a mask.

WORKPLACE SAFETY

How should employers and employees do to keep each other safe from COVID-19?

"It really depends on what the job is. If something can be done virtual to see if that is feasible both for the employee and the employer, making sure that we’re maintaining our distances, making sure that there’s hand sanitizing stations, definitely making sure everybody’s masking, getting your employees tested as soon as possible, making sure that people with symptoms aren’t allowed in the building, those are all important things. And if an employer needs better education around that, maybe they don’t understand or are not complying, call the public health department. They can come in and help educate that employer.

SNOWBIRDS AND WARM WEATHER TRAVEL

"Really comparing us to other states, unless their vacation home is in North or South Dakota, you’re going to go to an area that probably has less COVID-19 for now. It’s growing all over the country. There’s surging everywhere. Right now, Green Bay is not a great place to be when it comes to that. If you’re going to travel, make sure you’re calling ahead, make sure those hotels are doing the right thing, that they’re cleaning and masking and that you’ve arranged your travel so you are staying safe. "

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