“How many more lives could we have saved?” Dr. Rai emotional on pandemic anniversary

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 10:16 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “How many more lives could we have saved? I think that’s something that will haunt me and will haunt our profession and decision makers until the day we’re gone,” said an emotional Dr. Ashok Rai as he marked once year since coronavirus was declared a pandemic.

The Prevea Health President and CEO has been making weekly appearances on Action 2 News This Morning this entire year. He took a chance to look back and look forward and thank the community for banding together during the pandemic.

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

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


“You take all of the comments and social media stuff, I can get over that. That’s just life. I think the hard part for me is you’re going to look at 12 months back and you’re going to look at lives lost, decisions made, economic impacts, and all of that. It’s kind of nice to look back and the things you’ve said and celebrate a year, but we’re not done with this yet. That’s one of the things I need to say. But all of the things you could have done differently. If I had said something different, if we’d have done something different as a society. How many more lives could we have saved? I think that’s something that will haunt me and will haunt our profession and decision makers until the day we’re gone.”


“We compete. There’s no secret behind that in health care. We compete. It’s just part of our business, and it is a business. A year ago, I was going through all my text messages, and a big shout out to Chris Woleske at Bellin, Dan Meyer at Advocate Aurora, Brian Charlier at St. Mary’s and St. Vincent’s at HSHS, there’s a year’s worth of text messages of just talking about we just go our first case. I found the text message where we had our first death. Where we would text, ‘We’ve got 72 in the hospital. We’ve got 68 in the hospital.’ Those are numbers that are just so emotional when you look back at it. And we’re competitors. And it wasn’t just about sharing numbers. We supported each other, we shared what we were doing with our staff, how we were keeping people safe. All the protocols--we designed those on the fly. There was not playbook for this. That level of collaboration you will have never seen in health care. And it’s probably one of the things, I think in this community, I’m so proud of making the decision to move to Green Bay 20 years ago to practice medicine. I never thought it would be because how great of friends I’d become with my competitors and how we would help this community.

“You start at the county level and really with Anna [Destree] at Brown County and Debbie [Armbruster] at De Pere and Michelle [Myers] at the Oneida Nation, those are our public health officers. Those are the heroes you don’t get to see very often and they need to be recognized. And then just the level of collaboration that we had as simple health care systems with our state Department of Health Services, you could pick up the phone and ask for [former] Secretary [Andrea] Palm or Secretary [Karen] Timberlake now, and they will get them on the phone for you. That level of collaboration, that level of communication, in talking to my colleagues across the country, didn’t exist. Wisconsin had some of the worst outbreaks in the world. And that wasn’t because a lack of health care or efforts, it’s just situations happened and created that. We got through it better than most in the world because of how we were supported and we supported each other.”


“I don’t know if that’s a Midwest thing, a Green Bay thing, a Wisconsin thing, but we should be proud a year later that we can see that finish line, and we will get there. We’re not there yet. Once again, looking back at some of the positives, how much worse this would have been if we did not have the attitude we did? Politicians aside, because I could criticize them and they could criticize me, but the people involved, the day-to-day, the banding together, the thank you notes that keep you going. I’ll leave this with we live in a great community. We lost way too much. Hopefully we learn from this and we learn to come together as a community more often and to band together and support each other even when there’s not a pandemic there.”


How soon can a person sign up for a vaccine after the state announces the next eligible group Thursday?

“I think it really depends on the other half of the state’s announcement. One is going to be who’s eligible, and I think we have some hints towards who that’s going to be--those with underlying health conditions--but that has to be defined as well. What’s going to be on that list?> The CDC actually keeps two lists: those with severe underlying conditions, those with moderate underlying conditions. It’s really about timing. Is it going to be the 1st of April? The 15th of April? I think we’ve gotten some hints from the state. They’ll finalize that today. And then it will just be like your regular signing up. For us, it’s Monday at 5:30 at Prevea. Let’s just say, hypothetically, it’s April 1, it would be March 29 that you would be able to sign up for that, and it will just be on a weekly basis. Once again, all of this is going to depend not only on what the state says who’s eligible--which I think is really important--it’s the time of the eligibility. But it’s also how much vaccine we’re going to have to inject. Are we going to be able to open up 2,000 slots that week? Or are we going to open up 10,000 slots that week? We have the capacity to do that, but are we going to get the vaccine to do that?”


“We’re not ordering something out of a warehouse that’s already produced and we’re just waiting for it to ship. We’re ordering something that needs to be made. Remember, anything you order that’s custom made, you never know exactly when it’s going to get there. That’s kind of the situation here with the vaccine. How quickly can they make it? It’s not a shipping issue, it’s not a warehouse issue. It’s how quickly they can make it, and will we get a surplus? If you look at the state, the vaccinators, us, we request about 400,000 doses a week and about 140,000 get distributed. In April, are they going to be able to meet our 400,000 a week target and challenge us to get it into arms? I hope so.

“We’re really lucky, in a state where it’s as organized as it is, with what’s going on in Madison, that when they get it, they get it to us. That’s very different than other states.”


Moderna is testing a vaccine booster. Will we need one?

“People think that the science stopped the day the vaccine gets out. The research and the studying doesn’t stop. Researchers are going to fine tune that. They’re going to look at variants out there and say, ‘You know, our current vaccine is working pretty good, but could it be better? Could we predict other variants and do that?’ And that’s research going right now. They’re not saying we’re definitely going to have a booster or we need a booster. The science behind that needs to go on. I think if we learned anything in the past 12 months is to always be prepared and think about that next step. Moderna and the scientific community as a whole is not laying up on the research and already thinking about next steps.”


What happens if you accidentally get a Moderna and a Pfizer vaccine?

“It shouldn’t happen. There’s a lot of safety measures in place. The state has a lot of recommendations to make sure that doesn’t happen. If it does happen, it’s not going to cause you harm. But there’s no predictability of the immune response to that. That’s something that should be talked on an individual basis. To be honest with you, if we had that situation happen we would probably run that through some experts at the state. But it’s not harmful.”


Are fully vaccinated people with underlying health conditions allowed to meet with other vaccinated people and low-risk people?

“The CDC did not make a differentiation between what medical condition you might have. They just talked about a fully vaccinated individual. So the fact that you have two underlying conditions and your husband has one shouldn’t be a factor, as long as you’ve had both shots and it’s two weeks, they’re saying there’s less risk. Remember, they didn’t say zero risk. So you have to make that decision for yourself. The age of the children, they didn’t say. They basically said you’re interacting with low-risk individuals. That could be teenagers, that could be young adults, that could be children. You have to understand that you’re still putting them at a little bit of risk, and depending on their age, we’re not saying there’s zero risk, we’re saying the risk is mitigated significantly.”


“Unfortunately Marinette County is really big and clinic’s in Marinette. But if you’re willing to drive to Marinette, actually I looked right before I came on here, there’s some appointment slots available to you, so you can just go ahead and schedule.”

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