Dr. Rai provides insight on COVID vaccine differences and safety

Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 7:28 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “Right now, the safety profile looks very good.” That’s the encouraging message from Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai on recently released COVID-19 vaccine data.

Dr. Rai joined us on Action 2 News This Morning to answer your questions about the vaccine information released by Pfizer and Moderna.

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursdays. Have a question? Email


Wisconsin has seen a two-week high of hospitalizations and an average of 46 deaths per day from COVID-19. This is putting stress on our hospital systems.


“You may not die of COVID. You may need health care for another reason. A heart attack. A stroke. There’s snow on the ground. There could be accidents coming forward. And that’s the issue. Right now, there’s going to be a delay in care, no matter what, as we try to find beds for people. You may have a heart attack. We can open up your vessel, but you’ll still need ICU care after that. And we’ll be waiting for that bed. If there was a five-or-six-or-ten car pileup today, and four-or-five people needed a trauma bed, between the two trauma hospitals in town, there probably isn’t a bed available for everybody. Those are the things we worry about. It’s not just COVID, but COVID is pretty significant right now. And everybody’s wondering about the death rate. Well, it’s going to continue to go up in a situation where there is less and less capacity to take care of all of those patients. Remember, death is the lagging indicator. The more patients you have in the hospital, the less room and less ability you have to take care of patients the way you want to. Death rates in certain cities have risen because of that--not in Green Bay--hopefully that doesn’t happen. But we’ve seen it around the country and around the world.”


"I don’t think that when we were looking at this that we would look at an efficacy above 90 percent. That’s best-dream-ever type of situation when it comes to a vaccine. Influenza, like I said, usually around 40-to-60 percent. About half of the people get immunized and it works. With 90 percent efficacy, you’re talking about the top of the class.

“As far as safety goes, number one, we’re still finding out more about the safety data. The majority of the things that we worry about when it comes to a vaccine are some of the things that happen right at the time of injection or within weeks of it. And that’s been studied. Yes, this has been fast tracked. The fast track is: complete your trial and we’ll look at your data right away before we look at other things. They were able to enroll people faster, but a good amount of people to look at the safety. So right now, the safety profile that’s been published to us has the normal side effects you’d expect when we’re going to inject something in your body and try to get your body to react to it and create immunity: low grade fever, soreness, kind of that low, ‘I’ve just got a quick cold, I don’t feel good.’ Those are pretty normal after a vaccine. Those are the types of safety issues we’re seeing with the vaccine. We’re not seeing some of the significant things we worry about. Hopefully we don’t. When it’s in a larger population. But right now, the safety profile looks very good.”


“In the immediate future, we expect more to come down the road. I’m not sure we’re going to get the choice. It really depends on how the federal government decides to distribute this. That’s the huge question right now. As it gets FDA approval--all the vaccine that we need for the first round is actually created. It’s not like it’s going to go through FDA process and then let’s go make it. It’s waiting in a warehouse to be shipped. Multiple warehouses, probably. One requires things to be super cold. That’s the Pfizer vaccine. The other can be stored at more of a refrigerator temperature. That’s the Moderna vaccine. That’s going to go into some of the distribution formula. Do you have the ability to keep it cold? Don’t you? Do you really need to keep it cold as long as you use it in the first five days? No, you don’t. So it really depends on how efficient we can be. As health care, we are waiting, and waiting, and waiting. We’re ready to go. But we also need to understand the logistics of the delivery, the timing of it. Remember, it’s not just planning the first injection for everybody. You have to make sure you have a plan for a second one, and that you have inventory for the second one. Those are things we can’t fall short on. We’re hoping the government comes forward with some answers very soon.”


"I hope to use it today. Remember, the point of that is somebody who’s got risk factors, really low symptoms, and prevent them from getting sick. Hopefully we can start using that here in Green Bay today or tomorrow morning.


  • Can people get both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

“The way these vaccines are studied, granted they’re very similar, they’re still very different in some ways. Especially when it comes to the research behind them. So you do want to stick to the same brand. First shot Pfizer, second shot Pfizer. First shot Moderna, second shot Moderna. Your health care provider that will be injecting you will be tracking that and making sure of that as we progress to immunizing the public.”

  • Does new vaccine technology involving Messenger RNA create cancer risks?

"When it comes to how it’s used in a vaccine, it’s a very limited situation where you’re getting the Messenger RNA to create the protein to have your immune response to it and it’s done. When it comes to Messenger RNA vaccines, the risk is considered to be significantly lower. As we start to learn more about mRNA as a different delivery tool for other diseases, even outside of vaccines, such as cancer therapy, there’s a little bit more risk if you’re getting the same Messenger RNA over and over and over in a repetitive situation. That’s something we’ll see research on in the coming months to years, probably years, but as it stands today, the risk is extremely low when it’s used in this type of vaccine format.

  • When will the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine be available?

“I don’t think we know yet. I think Wall Street would really like to know that, too. Hopefully we’ll start to see more data coming out of J&J here in the coming weeks, too. It really depends on when they’re able to process their data, which really depends on how they were able to enroll the 30-to-60 thousand people necessary to get good data on this. So depending on how successful they were enrolling people and following them, if they had any delays, those are the things that determine when we’re going to hear. Right now, we don’t know.”


How often should we wash scarves and mittens?

“It’s a good question. Number one recommendation, because a scarf is very porous, is that you should have a mask on then have your scarf over it. If that’s true, the scarf is pretty safe. If your scarf is going to be heavily exposed to respiratory droplets, you should treat it like you treat your mask and wash it on a regular basis. But the number one guidance there, because a scarf’s not exact as protective as say, a regular cloth mask would be at preventing the spread of droplets, is to wear your mask and then wear your scarf. We’re going to be extra warm this winter.”


Do people who have had COVID and recovered need to follow the same guidelines as people who have not been infected?

“It’s a question that’s coming up a lot. The CDC recommendations haven’t changed. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, the only thing that you don’t have to do in the next 90 days is quarantine if you’re re-exposed. So every other CDC recommendation holds today. We’re learning more. That may change. That may change tomorrow. But for right now, as we head into the holidays, if somebody has recovered from COVID-19, they still need to mask, you still need to physically distance from them because we don’t know their ability to continue to spread the virus, although they may not get re-infected with it.”


What’s the difference between the single swab and dual swab tests?

"It really depends on your testing site. Health and Human Services sites, DHS sites, the health system sites, each have different technologies. If you’re getting dual swabbed, the chances are that somebody’s doing an antigen test on you first, and depending on those results, sending that second swab for PCR. For example, if you had symptoms and the antigen test they did on you, the Rapid, you’re done. If you had symptoms and the antigen test is negative, then they still need to send that out of state or within the state, to a different lab, for PCR testing. So it really depends on the test being done. But if you’re being swabbed twice, it’s likely because they’re doing an antigen and having that back up to do a PCR.


Is there any benefit if people wear a mask that doesn’t cover their nose?

“It’s a bad idea. It’s useless. The whole point of wearing a mask is to prevent respiratory droplets from escaping your body, and your nose is a large source of that. Granted, your mouth is, too. But we use all three openings, technically, for exchanging of air, so we have to make sure your mask is covering your nose and your mouth. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’d just like to go up to people who have it halfway on and tell them to pull up their mask like you tell them to pull up their pants.”


Is a washing machine better than washing in the sink?

“It really depends on your mechanism in the sink. I think the washing machine is a little easier, especially if you grab one of those little laundry bags, they can be easy. You know they’re going to be well washed in that situation. They’re going to have a longer dwell time in the soap and the warm water. Whatever you’re doing, just making sure that it’s thorough.”

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