By SARAH FLOWER
A pharmaceutical company has released data about a pill that could reduce hospitalizations and death from Covid-19. KSUT’s Sarah Flower spoke with Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health about this new evidence and what it might mean for the future of the virus.
Sarah Flower 00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health for our weekly COVID-19 update. This past week, the U.S. hit a grim statistic, surpassing over 700,000 deaths due to Covid-19. Liane, this is a sad state of affairs for our nation and a statistic that I never thought we’d get to.
Liane Jollon 00:30
It’s a really huge number to think that 700,000 people lost their lives prematurely due to this pandemic. And a sizable number of these individuals have lost their lives after vaccine became available, which really is designed to prevent hospitalizations, and loss of life. So we really encourage people to recognize what a huge number this is, and also recognize that this is exactly what the vaccines are designed to prevent, so we have control over this going forward.
Sarah Flower 01:09
Also, in headline news, pharmaceutical company Merck has submitted some data about a treatment pill that could reduce hospitalization and death, and they’re saying so far, cut in half, so that on top of monoclonal antibodies and treatment, I want to talk about the difference of treatment versus prevention of this virus.
Liane Jollon 01:32
I think it’s really exciting that there is, you know, this important development that this disease can become more treatable at the antiviral level, meaning that the pathogen that’s attacking the body can potentially be neutralized as Merck is reporting that this drug that they’ve developed, it’s 50% effective, and the antiviral properties. This is something you would take after you came down with COVID-19. And it sounds like the new Merck drug, like the monoclonal antibodies that are currently available has to be given in a window of when you’re early in your course of infection. So there’s a couple of things here, right, we, from the public health perspective, really look at what is the best way to prevent disease and prevent infection. And with something like COVID-19, we’re preventing it because it is deadly, it’s taken 700,000 American lives prematurely. Now, if more treatment becomes available, and this becomes a treatable infection, this is really, really good news. But we also have a long road to go before there still needs to be an emergency use authorization, then production needs to ramp up then there needs to be a supply chain getting to every corner of the country. And people need to take it early in their course of infection. So with all of the tremendous unknowns, of course, the best thing we should still be focusing on is how do we prevent spread. And right now the way that we prevent spread is getting vaccinated, boosting if you’re more than six months out from your Pfizer vaccine, paying attention to when boosters may be available for Johnson & Johnson, or the Moderna vaccine. And while transmission rates are really high, the other thing that we need to do is follow the precautions that we had prior to there being vaccine available. And this includes maintaining six foot distance and includes paying attention to ventilation and indoor spaces. And it includes masking up right now in public indoor spaces.
Sarah Flower 03:40
Liane, you mentioned those that are unvaccinated, which definitely includes school-aged children which Colorado is reporting that the testing rate of school-aged children is the highest that they’ve seen in this entire pandemic, including tons of outbreaks reported at schools across the state. Any update, around that demographic?
Liane Jollon 04:00
So for vaccines for school-aged children, the FDA has just released a schedule for when they will be needing to review data. And in about 10 days, the FDA is going to get together and review data for boosters for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. And then about two weeks after that the FDA has scheduled to get together to review the data for school-aged children. So I think the first step that we expect to see is more information about boosting Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna, potentially for people just like Pfizer who are more than six months out from their prior vaccine, or whatever time period the data indicates. And it’s likely to cover the same individuals who are currently encouraged to get a booster if they’ve received a Pfizer series. So this is folks who are over 65 and then it’s also adults who are in professions where they’re likely to be exposed to COVID regularly. Or, if they have high risk conditions where if they caught COVID, they’d have higher likelihood of having a bad outcome, meaning a hospitalization or a death to those populations currently, right now, for Pfizer recipients are encouraged to boost. So in the next couple of weeks, the FDA will be meeting to have that discussion and look at the data for Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna. And then a few weeks after that, the FDA will be reviewing the Pfizer data for five to 11 year olds.
Sarah Flower 05:39
Lastly, I want to talk about the town of Silverton in San Juan County, Colorado, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country of their eligible population. Yet they’re still seeing cases of COVID-19. Liane, is this a cause for concern?
Liane Jollon 05:58
Well, I think the cause for concern here is that the vaccines are really working. If you talk to folks who work in hospitals, they will really tell you there are some stark differences between the level of care that someone needs if they’re vaccinated versus if they’re not vaccinated. So if you catch it, and you’re not vaccinated, and you’re in a high risk category, you know, you just start to become more and more likely to need higher levels of care, possibly an ICU, possibly a ventilator, and go through just a really long, long road of recovery. If you’re one of the lucky ones who recover at all. Now, folks that are vaccinated are much, much, much less likely to go through all of that, but they still might get sick. So the vaccines work to keep you out of the hospital and keep you safe and sound. The Delta variant because it’s so transmissible has really kind of turned on its head what people were hoping for, which is if you get to 70, maybe 80% of your population vaccinated, we’ll just see the infection rate dropped down for everybody. Well, once the Delta kind of came on the scene, and moved from unvaccinated to unvaccinated person as quickly as it did, it kept the level of infection high enough that vaccinated people also got exposed. And that’s something that we’ve seen in towns like Silverton, where, you know, there are these really interesting statistics you have over 90% vaccination rate, yet, at some point, the case rate was still very, very high and very concerning, because it’s an isolated community that lacks health care. You know, I think what people kind of are assessing in that story is, it’s amazing to be this far into it and have the tools that we have, and still be having trouble controlling this infection. So we’re asking people, again, if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated, it will keep you out of the hospital. It’ll keep you from dying. And it’s likely to help us stop spreading infection at the rate that we are. And then the second piece of it is though, when the transmission rate in the community is really high, we still need to mask up indoors, and we need to follow other precautions, because the Delta really spreads quickly.
Sarah Flower 08:21
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, is there anything else that you’d like to add for us here today?
Liane Jollon 08:28
No, it’s just great to talk to you as usual and look forward to catching up next week.
Sarah Flower 08:33
Liane, thank you for your time today and every Tuesday here on KSUT for our weekly COVID-19 update.