Infectious disease expert: It’s about balance at this point in the pandemic

Many things in the pandemic are still being studied, but a local infectious disease expert says it’s how to communicate that takes top priority for him.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 8:16 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Many things in the pandemic are still being studied like antiviral pills, vaccines for kids under 5 and new variants, but a local infectious disease expert says it’s how to communicate that takes top priority for him.

While people on social media can make it seem like either the pandemic is totally over or it’s worse than it’s ever been, Dr. Tim Lahey at the UVM Medical Center says it’s somewhere in the middle.

“I try to think of social media as like a party, and inevitably, the loudest person in the room is easiest to hear, but probably someone who is loud and has exaggerated things,” said Lahey.

That can drown out a balanced approach. Lahey says he wants more research into effective communication between people and the medical community about how to handle the roller coaster ride.

“We need to get used to going up and down in the number of cases and hospitalizations, and that means we need to have effective trustworthy communications,” Lahey said.

Part of the ride is Paxlovid, the antiviral medication, that works to stop COVID-19 from replicating in your body.

Vermont has gotten 2,000 courses a week the last two weeks, with each course being 30 pills. But it’s only for people at high risk of hospitalization or death.

“It hasn’t been studied as well in low-risk people as it has in high-risk people, and so it makes sense prescribers would only give it to people with evidence of efficacy,” said Lahey.

New data from Pfizer shows around 1%-2% of people who take a course of Paxlovid experience a rebound in symptoms and can get another positive test. But Lahey says that’s not a huge surprise.

“Paxlovid is really meant for people at high risk, meaning their immune response probably isn’t fantastic. We’ve seen this with lots of other illnesses, where sometimes you can have rebound when the immune system can’t go around and clean up the rest,” said Lahey.

Dr. Lahey says the big question isn’t exactly whether they still have some virus in their system, but whether they’re protected from hospitalization and death, something Paxlovid has been shown to do.

The doctor says in the coming year, he expects multiple pills to fight COVID-19 to come out, but we’ll wait to see what works.

“It’s really not that hard to figure out something that works in a test tube, but to show that it’s safe and really effective in human beings is tough,” said Lahey.

Also still being studied are vaccines for kids under 5. Lahey says it’s taking so long because it needs to be twice as safe as for adults since kids, in general, aren’t as affected.

“The million-dollar question is the vaccine safe enough and effective enough at preventing severe disease that it makes sense to give to them,” Lahey said.

Some movement on that could come this summer.

As the peaks and valleys in cases and severity continue, Lahey says we just have to get good at the balancing act.

“I think we’re going to have to get used to sometimes wearing a mask in the grocery store, or sometimes picking to avoid higher-risk settings or wearing a mask. Other times saying, ‘Hey the numbers look pretty good, I can relax a little bit.’ It’s like wearing your seat belt all the time in the car and wearing a helmet just for certain activities,” said Lahey.

But new reports show it may not kick out the virus entirely.

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