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Dr. Rai answers questions about COVID-19 vaccines

Prevea president/CEO Dr. Ashok Rai
Prevea president/CEO Dr. Ashok Rai(Prevea Health)
Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 6:41 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2020 at 7:52 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Action 2 News viewers have many questions for Prevea president/CEO Dr. Ashok Rai about the COVID-19 vaccines in the news and also the risks versus rewards of holiday travel.

COVID-19 VACCINES

“Will the COVID-19 vaccine be ‘one and done,’ or is it like the flu shot that you have to keep going back every year?”

We’re still waiting on that data. Obviously these studies happened over a period of months, and knowing how long immunity lasts, only time will actually tell us that and observation of, number one, the people that were in the first round of the vaccines to continue along to see how long they generate that immune response and the rest of us, how long we continue to maintain that. So, we’ll know more probably in about a year when all this is done. So, it’s yet to be determined.

“Do you recommend getting an antibody test prior to the COVID vaccine?”

Right now the number one thing that we’re trying to look at is those that don’t have COVID or haven’t received it get, that vaccine, or haven’t been affected, not received it. Testing antibodies right now, you may have antibodies to it; it may or may not confer immunity, so the CDC and the FDA will come out with recommendations on if you previously had COVID-19, if you should be vaccinated or not and what time frame that should be in.

“After getting vaccinated, will it be safe to resume normal activities, going out, and do I need to wear a mask once it’s taken effect?”

One of the things we have to understand is, the day you get the shot you’re not immune. So, there’s going to be a time period where everybody hopefully will have the vaccine in them but we’ll still need to be masking. Especially in a couple of these vaccines coming out, as we’ve heard, it’s more than one shot -- in one case, over than a month apart and then a month later to develop that immunity, so you’re looking at about two months after the vaccine before we start to see decisions about masking and who wears them and who doesn’t at that point.

“Why does it take 20 days for the FDA to meet to approve emergency use of these vaccines?”

It is the federal government (laughs). In all seriousness, 20 days is actually a pretty short time period. If you think about a board of scientists that are going to be reviewing a huge amount of data, and then they have a dialogue back and forth with the company and the researchers on the vaccine. There’s going to be questions from people to make sure they feel it’s safe before they approve it. So expect that dialogue to take place. I think 20 days is a really short amount of time when you think about the amount of material they have to go through. It’s a dedicated group of people that aren’t shopping on Amazon, they’re actually spending their time really focused on getting this vaccine to the country and the rest of the world.”

“Are the volunteers used in these trials all healthy people or do they have some who also have underlying health conditions?”

The early data we’ve seen look like they had a pretty good variety of the U.S. population. Remember that about 40 percent of the U.S. population has some sort of underlying, chronic disease -- obesity being the number one out there right now. So we’ll start to see the data as it comes forward. We’ll start to see the age distribution. We’ll start to see what other diseases they may have. The sex distribution -- male or female. The race distribution. That’s data that we’re awaiting, but I wouldn’t expect everybody to be perfectly healthy going into a trial like this.”

“Do these vaccines have preservatives in them, and what about the people that have allergies to these preservatives?”

Each one is going to have a different mixture. We’re waiting to get those details, but as you look at the early parts of the study -- and once again, we’re waiting for the final studies to be out -- it didn’t look like anybody had what we call anaphylactic or allergic reaction to the vaccine. Most had, if they had any kind of symptom after the vaccine, it was a localized reaction: Soreness in the arm from getting it, maybe a low-grade temp or not feeling well the day after as the immune system was kicking in. We didn’t see any reports yet of allergic reactions, but once again we’re waiting for that data and for the FDA and the professional community to be able to review that.

“Viewer has psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and is on drugs that suppress the immune system. Is it safe for a patient like him to get the COVID vaccine?”

When you have a suppressed immune system, it’s a great question to ask about what kind of vaccine should you get and what shouldn’t you get. Live, attenuated virus vaccines are ones that are usually contraindicated. In other words, it’s a live vaccine that’s given to you to help you create an immunity. That’s not what’s being given in any of the COVID vaccines that’s being discussed -- it’s a piece of DNA to generate a protein -- so you should be able to get that if you are immune deficient. It’s important to talk to your physician about it, because there may be other conditions that you have that would be contraindicated to getting the vaccine. But this isn’t one of those typical vaccines that you should be worried about.”

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HOLIDAY TRAVEL

We shouldn’t put too much weight into a negative test because obviously you can turn positive that next day. There is an understanding that if children are going home that when they get home they should quarantine at home for 14 days or at least wear a mask around the house so in case they are positive they’re not spreading it to their family, especially their parents who are probably at a higher risk. So, it’s important to understand those situations. Testing is good, it’s just not absolute. But what we’re really hoping for is, yes, be with your kids if they’re in college and they have to come home, but avoid those large group gatherings, avoid the grandparents, avoid people who could get sicker in this situation and could wind up in the hospital. We’d really like to make it through Thanksgiving, make it through December, make it through Christmas so we have many more with our family.

ASTRAZENECA VACCINE

The AstraZeneca vaccine, there’s a lot of differences right now. The prime difference really is around its mechanism. One, it’s mRNA -- that would be the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine. AstraZeneca using a virus, a very small virus to help transport parts of the coronavirus into your body to get an immune reaction. Very different dosing, very different research around this. The good things about AstraZeneca is you don’t have to have it at a very cold temperature and it’s much cheaper so it’s much easier to get around the world to Third World countries. Some of the things we’ve yet to see: The study data is pretty small, especially in the United States, so the FDA may require more time for AstraZeneca to be approved, probably early into 2021, maybe as long as the spring depending on the results.

“If there are competing vaccines, could some people do some ‘vaccine shopping,’ like if Chicago has a type of vaccine?”

Right now we don’t even know the mechanism how this is going to be out. We all know as medical groups and hospitals and physician offices have all applied to get vaccine to be able to vaccinate the public. Now we have to see what we get and how that’s going to be advertised, how that’s going to be distributed, like pharmacies participating in this, too. This will, like I’ve said before, be the largest operational lift in American health care history to immunize so many people. We’re all ready for it. Just trying to understand the distribution methodology is the big question right now.

VACCINE DISTRIBUTION READINESS

What you do is, you submit all of your data to the state and the state makes a determination of who gets the vaccine, when. Then we also have to meet public health needs. We have to meet with Public Health, there’s the homeless, there’s other situations that we all have to partner on.

ANTIBODY DRUG

Overall, probably less than a dozen people have received the drug. It’s a very small population that qualifies for it. You have to have certain risk factors. It has to be early in the disease process for you to get the drug. So we found, like I said, a little less than a dozen patients. So far so good. People are reporting that their symptoms are getting better. We don’t know if their virus would have normally have been getting better, but I do know that so far people are feeling better and we’ll be tracking them for the weeks to come and also finding more patients that meet the criteria to get it.

You have to have certain risk factors. You have to have symptoms with it and not be sick enough to be in the hospital, so it’s kind of that early gray zone, and the earlier we can get that drug into people the better, so it’s also people who just got their results, not got their results 6 or 7 days ago. So it’s a combination of all of that: Screening our patients, educating our providers, and making sure that the right people get that drug or the new one that we should be getting soon, Regeneron -- both very similar but both the same kind of patients we’ll be looking for. [Read Brittany Schmidt’s report on Regeneron HERE.]

On Action 2 News at Six, Sarah Thomsen has a FIRST ALERT INVESTIGATES report on how local health organizations are getting ready to distribute COVID-19 vaccines when they’re available.

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