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Dr. Rai on hope for J&J shot, vaccine supply and 500,000 death milestone

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 7:34 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The United States this week marked 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. All those deaths happened in one year. “It’s so hard to fathom the trauma,” says Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai.

Dr. Rai joined us on Action 2 News This Morning to discuss a feeling of hope with the expected approval of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine this week.

“Wisconsin, two-to-three percent of the country’s population, so maybe we’ll get 600,000 of those doses. If that’s true, in March, and we only need to give it once, wo that’s 600,000 people we can vaccinate in a month,” says Dr. Rai.

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

Previous Dr. Rai segments: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

500,000 DEATHS

“It’s so hard to fathom the trauma. The families that have lost somebody. The health care workers that have experienced this loss first hand. We’re trained to see death, but never at this volume. I think the hardest thing for us as society, especially those of us in health care, is number one, understanding that loss. Some of us saw it. Some of us, like myself, experienced it within our own family. It’s also the concept of if this was a natural disaster that caused this, that’s one thing. Even if it was a war that caused this much death it’s still so traumatic. I think the hardest part about this 500,000 number, and remember, that’s serious loss but think about the other millions of people: economic damage, mental health damage, long haulers, everything that we’re seeing, so it’s so much more than 500,000. You think about it and for those people like me, you look back and think how much of that was preventable? That’s going to be a hard thing to overcome in our careers. No moment of silence is going to make that better. I think it’s going to take a generation or two for us truly to get over the worldwide trauma of this pandemic, unfortunately. It’s because when you look back, and people will look back, there will be hearings and there will be comments and there will be books written about what we could have done differently, and it’s really hard to fathom of how much that could have been prevented.”

WEATHER-RELATED VACCINE AND TESTING DELAYS

“It [Pfizer vaccine doses] was coming from the east coast, out of Louisville, so you’re watching the tracking number and it arrives. We were able to open up appointments last night and into this morning for the coming week. Remember, we’ll do this weekly on this cadence, but it’s going to be a little more difficult to predict because of the weather. We still haven’t gotten our Moderna shipment yet. That should hopefully come today, but that might be delayed. We’ve also seen a testing delay, because remember, a lot of the PCR tests that the state sponsored here actually are delivered by FedEx. So they’ve been stuck in hangers from here to the east coast. So testing last week, we saw significant delays in results because of the weather. That should be better this week. For those that have missing test results, please call us. In certain circumstances, it may be faster just to re-swab that patient, and we’ll do that. It’s been a very frustrating week, one that’s completely out of our control because of the weather.”

JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE

“I think it makes a huge difference for a lot of reasons. Number one, we have to see the research. We have to see the articles that come out on Friday and make sure it goes through the process. Everybody’s like, why is it taking so long? Well, don’t we want it to take long? We want to make sure it’s safe, we want to make sure the research is reviewed, so let’s be patient. Secondly, if it’s approved and there truly are 20 million doses in March--and I think that’s a number we haven’t gotten official confirmation on. Wisconsin, two-to-three percent of the country’s population, so maybe we’ll get 600,000 of those doses, if that’s true, in March, and we only need to give it once. So that’s 600,000 people we can vaccinate in a month. Right now, our cadence has been what, 70-to-80 thousand a week, so that will be a significant increase, especially as we get into these new eligible classes. And we’ll be able to take this vaccine--because it’s a lot more portable, it’s one shot--we’ll be able to take it well outside of the mass vaccine sites, we’ll be able to take to rural settings, we’ll be able to come on site, say in a school gymnasium for teachers, it will create a lot more opportunity to get the to the finish line faster. We need it. We need it now. But we need to make sure it’s safe. We need to reach the research. So when it’s approved on Friday, a lot of us will be reading all weekend long and attending CDC update lectures throughout the weekend and learning about it. Hopefully it will be a good thing.”

MARINETTE CLINIC OPENS

“Especially in the rural environments, we were really worried, and as we looked at statistics on making sure people had good access to being vaccinated, we basically looked at the UWGB site, we shrunk it down a little bit, we put it in Marinette. Still going to do a lot of vaccines on a weekly basis, and more importantly act as a hub so we can go even farther north, especially if we get other types of vaccine.”

VACCINE SIDE EFFECTS

An 80-year-old viewer who received the Moderna shot reports side effects including fatigue, muscle pains and fever. She’s nervous about the second dose.

“The most important thing I’d say to reassure you is just like the first time, those effects that you’re having, what we call the reactogenicity, or your body actually creating an immune response, they go away. Just like it did the first time, it will the second time. It could be a rough day again, and it also could not. Some people don’t always have that at the second shot. The most important thing to remember is for you to achieve that really good level of immunity, that level of safety that we want you to have, especially at age 80, we need you to get that second shot. The day after may be a little rough again, but you will get better. It won’t be a permanent thing. But more importantly, we want to protect you. So if you’re 80 years old, make sure you get that second shot.”

Should people tell their vaccinator about side effects?

“Not really because those aren’t effects that are abnormal, to be honest with you. I had them, other people have had them. Felt tired, felt sore. They go away in a day. I think that’s the most important thing to remember is it will go away. It will go away very quickly. More importantly it’s that long-term reward in that immunity.”

VACCINE TOURISM

A viewer who is under 65 wonders if it is wrong to look to other states to get the vaccine.

“We’ve seen a lot of vaccine tourism. Obviously people are frustrated with how the rollout is here. It’s there for a reason to make sure we get large chunks of the population done, but I understand the frustration. The state of Wisconsin says to be vaccinated here you should be living here, working here, being educated here. Other states likely have the same restrictions. If they don’t, you can look into it if you truly want to travel. Remember you have to travel twice. It’s going to be a two-shot situation. We just keep asking people for patience with the state. When the state makes you eligible we’ll make sure we get as much vaccine into arms as we can.”

LONG HAULERS AND VACCINE

Can a person with long-term side effects of COVID-19 get the vaccine?

“It’s a great question. It’s coming up a lot, because obviously we’re getting more and more of those people who are having symptoms long time. Long hauler is the term that’s being used. The CDC did actually recommend that if you’ve recovered from COVID, which is that 10-day recovery period, despite having long-term symptoms, you should still get the vaccine. That recommendation hasn’t changed at this time. They still actually recommend two shots. I think there’s been some research that if you’ve had COVID, maybe I should only get one shot--that’s still research being done. Right now the recommendation as it stands today is two shots. Make sure you’re 10 days recovered from COVID. So if you’re a long hauler, the vaccine’s still recommended.”

FUNERAL VISITS

A couple would like to attend the funeral of their niece. A big crowd is expected. They’re in their 70s and have had the first dose of vaccine. What’s the recommendation?

“First of all, you have my sympathies on your loss. That’s an incredible loss and obviously a very difficult situation. It’s important to know that number one, we need to look at what’s going on in the community with COVID and it’s not gone. Our number of cases have gone down significantly, but they’re still pretty high. They’re actually higher on a seven-day average than we were in some of our previous peaks. There’s definitely a risk in going and you’re not completely protected after one shot. You would need a second shot. Obviously you have to make a decision what’s right for you and it’s a very emotional decision, but you aren’t going to be as protected as we want you to be. And you are at risk given your age.”

PROTECTION LEVELS

Who is better protected from COVID-19: a person who got the vaccine or a person who was infected and developed antibodies?

“So this is one that I think in the rear view mirror we’ll understand a little better when we’re able to study it. It’s very difficult to understand the type of immunity people are getting from the natural infection, natural immunity from getting infected. Especially because there’s been a large spectrum of infection: asymptomatic, somewhat sick, long-term symptoms, really sick. Different categories, and it’s hard to know if the level of natural immunity is the same across the board or if it’s different. The one thing that we were able to study with the vaccine is understanding that level of immunity was a little more consistent. They recommend that still, if you’ve recovered, to get the vaccine for that reason. It would be a predictable level of immunity. It can’t hurt you if you’ve already had it. If anything, it could act as a booster and even enhance your immunity. So we still would recommend it. To say one is better or worse than the other: how’s this? One we can predict and one we don’t know about yet.”

PFIZER VS. MODERNA

A viewer wants to know if one vaccine offers more protection than the other.

“I guess I’ll use one of my favorite Wisconsin terms: It’s a horse apiece. Really, you know, when you look at first dose and second dose between the two, you really should be looking at the end product. In the end product, they were within a percentage point of each other in effectiveness. They both are equally effective in our minds in health care. And they’re both equally safe, which is more important. We don’t draw a difference between the two.”

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