Vaccine Update – Are Vaccines Beating the Virus? Do We Need Mandates?


Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

As COVID infections spread due to the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, four medical experts weigh in on key questions about vaccinations: How effective are they with both vaxxed and unvaxxed; Who needs boosters and why; How to speed up vaccination rates before a new variant emerges; What risks we run if we wind up demonizing the unvaxxed. Experts discussed the same at the EMS briefing on July 31.  In just a few short weeks Delta has become the dominant variant in the country, and now makes up 83% of new cases in the United States.

Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, UC San Francisco’s School of Medicine discussed strategies for vaccinating unvaccinated people. She started by pointing out coronavirus outbreak among vaccinated individuals in Provincetown with mild conditions, Massachusetts, which played a significant role in new guidance from the federal agency that vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in virus hot spots. Vaccines work and are effective against hospitalizations and severity.

She added that the delta variant of COVID-19 causes high viral loads in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Our main focus is getting the unvaccinated vaccinated, and that is the national strategy. These vaccines are working, since the delta variant is highly transmissible it is better to keep wearing masks indoors. We are a mixed bag, with the Bay Area having higher rates of vaccination while Texas and Mississippi rates are low. Six strategies to get people vaccinated is community based messaging, bringing vaccines to where people are, free transportation and childcare, vaccine passport, and vaccine mandate.

President Joe Biden is asking states and cities to use federal rescue funds to provide $100 payments as an incentive for individuals to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Tiffani Jenae Johnson, M.D., M.Sc. UC Davis Health Children’s Hospital discussed the socio-economic and cultural factors that have left many minorities unvaccinated and the risks of demonizing the unvaccinated. Vaccines are safe and effective, said Dr. Tiffany. She said we have certain barriers in accessing the vaccines. Transportation, use of the internet to book appointments, paid time off to get the vaccines and mistrust are the main challenges faced by many in our country. Is there mistrust for vaccines and for the healthcare system in Black communities? Yes. But that mistrust is very well earned,” said Dr. Tiffani. “So I think that we, as physicians and researchers and healthcare systems, need to take a step back and instead of saying, ‘Why won’t Black folks trust us?’ say, ‘what have we done to earn trust?”

Ben Neuman, Ph. D, Chief virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University discussed the findings of studies from the U.K. and Israel that determined vaccines to be less effective against the spread of the Delta variant. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective against Delta after two shots versus 93.7% against original Covid-19 after two shots, according to a lab study. It’s important to say that in terms of protecting against severe illness, hospitalization and death, all vaccines are still very efficient, said Ben.

Dali Fan, MD, Ph. D, UC Davis Health discussed the possible need for boosters of the Covid vaccine. He said there is no need to get a booster shot as of now. He emphasized on getting vaccinated in the first place. Even with an antibody titer drop, a boost is NOT called for yet, said Dr. Fan. Even if a booster were required, it would likely only be for select groups of recipients, like the elderly or people with other conditions that make them vulnerable to severe disease.