As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Allen County and across the state and country, health care experts urge vaccinations as the best weapon against the virus.
Dr. Brian Wolfe, a physician with the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, and Dr. Andrew Schlachter, a pulmonary and critical care physician who works with COVID patients in the ICU at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, discussed the virus and vaccines.
Their conversations began in Saturday’s paper, when they talked about the increasing cases, the delta variant and the importance of vaccinations.
Today, they discuss the impact on children and teenagers, and more. You can also hear Wolfe’s comments via the Register’s podcast.
Are kids more at risk from COVID now?
Wolfe: Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City is full.
The average age of people who are now getting sick and hospitalized is in the 40s.
We’re seeing children get it. There are kids in our schools that have immune systems that don’t work very well.
One of the things that we as a community should be doing is protecting people who are more vulnerable.
If there is something that can be done to ensure the wellbeing of our children and protection for the greater good of everybody, then immunizations, masking and distancing still make sense.
Schlachter: I’m a parent of two children who have not yet gotten the opportunity to be vaccinated and as a physician and as a parent, I am now much more worried about my children than I was the entire last year. I am not a pediatrician and I don’t want to speak to an expertise that’s not mine, but my pediatrician friends are telling me that they are now seeing far more severe disease and pediatric deaths related to this delta variant. I believe kids are at increased risk and I’m very worried for my children.
There is no way on earth I would take my odds with COVID over my odds with a vaccine. And that’s not just for me. That’s for my 3-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter. And for anyone in my family that I love and care about.
Is it safe for my teenager to get a vaccine?
Wolfe: Kids 12 and older can get vaccines. In our office, we give the Pfizer vaccine, which is the one that’s been approved so far for ages down to age 12.
Again, we’ve had the same kind of experience with those vaccines with youths. The first shot may not have much reaction. The second one, they have the typical aches and soreness for about 24 hours, and they seem to do quite well with it.
The other thing that’s been found in the studies with younger kids has been how effective these vaccines are. In adults, it’s about 95% effective; in kids it’s almost 100%.
The vaccine is very effective.
Schlachter: Just two days ago, the New England Journal of Medicine published a series where they showed that the vaccine was both safe and effective in that adolescent group, which is what we would expect.
There’s been so much disinformation about this vaccine that there’s all sorts of mis-truths. There is no reason why this vaccine should not have worked in pregnant women, in younger adults and adolescents or even children.
The way that medicines become approved in our country, we have to go through studies. The reason that we couldn’t give our younger adults and children vaccines from the get-go is that it wasn’t studied on the first go-around.
Now we’re having the literature from those studies to prove what we already knew.
I want everyone in Iola to know that I am going to be pushing and shoving for my children to be first in line when it is approved for them.
What about masks, especially in schools?
Wolfe: The common medical knowledge right now would say that masks are effective. Distancing is effective.
Consider the flu, for example. Last year our office had only about five positive influenza tests. Nationwide, about 450 died from influenza as opposed to about 25,000 in a typical year. A lot of that had to do with distancing and masking.
Schlachter: I’m not an expert in epidemiology, so I reserve that judgment for those experts. As a parent, I am so much more comfortable that my children are going to a school that has a mask mandate than having them getting COVID or perhaps having school shut down or them being quarantined at home because of rampant spread.
My children are happy to wear masks. They are not upset about it.
Are there medications to treat COVID?
Schlachter: I’m smiling because I have a very good answer.
There is a newer medication that is widely available to everyone over the age of 12. And that is a vaccine for coronavirus.
The vaccines that are approved in the United States have a better safety profile and better efficacy than any of the drugs we once had.
The risks associated with any of the vaccines are incredibly small. I think that the average American has more chances on a daily basis of having a complication related to an over-the-counter medicine than this vaccine.
Wolfe: The alternative treatments are not effective. There are all kinds of things that have been tried and they’ve not been demonstrated to make much of a difference.
This is a virus. Antibiotics really don’t work. People sometimes want us to do something when they get the bug and really, there’s not much we can do.
You treat symptoms. Make sure you get fluid, you hydrate. You treat with Tylenol. If you’re getting short of breath, get checked so you know where your oxygen saturation is at.
What about ivermectin, which is used to treat parasites in animals? There seems to be interest in this locally.
Wolfe: There’s never been anything demonstrated that ivermectin makes a difference.
Schlachter: In addition to being on the front lines of our COVID ICU since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve been privileged to serve on our COVID task force, which is a group of physicians, pharmacists, researchers and administrators who have been vetting all the available literature for safe, effective therapies.
Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not approved for use in our hospital. They are not given and they have not been proven to be safe. If anyone wants to use either, they should be using a vaccine beforehand.
Why would anyone take veterinary parasite medicine as opposed to a vaccine? It is mind-boggling.
Some say they are waiting until the FDA approves a vaccine before they get vaccinated. What difference will that make?
Schlachter: The FDA in general always wants to make sure that any new drug that comes to market is safe and effective. It goes through a very rigorous and lengthy process. An emergency use authorization just helps speed that up but does not shorten in any sense the safety or the investigation to ensure this drug is safe.
The vaccine will be no different when it’s FDA approved. So I don’t think we should be waiting for that.
Wolfe: The FDA is part of the federal government, which has a very rigid set of guidelines by which they do what they do. They have certain guidelines and procedures they follow.
So far all the information that’s been out there continues to demonstrate that the vaccines are safe and effective.
We thought by this time, the pandemic would be over. What went wrong?
Wolfe: The virus changed a little bit. It didn’t know that we were supposed to get on with our lives. The virus does not care what we think about that.
The bigger issue is that if you get the delta variant and you’re immunized, you’re still not going to get really sick.
When you only have half the people in the community immunized — and in Allen County, not even that — people are going to continue to get this virus.
Getting vaccinated is the only way we’re going to make a difference and get back to normal.
If we don’t get our vaccination numbers up high enough, we’ll be living with this virus for some time.
Vaccines are available. Our office has all three vaccines. It’s available at other places as well. It’s easy to get, and it’s free.
Schlachter: Because YOU didn’t get a vaccine. The reason this delta variant spread like wildfire is because you didn’t get vaccinated.
Our American hospital systems are overrun with patients. That means in your agricultural community, that when your loved one gets maimed by a tractor or when you fall off a horse or when grandma gets diagnosed with colon cancer, they may not get the care that they need.
I don’t think patients can avoid having strokes or heart attacks or a cancer diagnosis. But you can avoid being in my ICU for COVID.
A frustration that’s been voiced by healthcare workers is, if we’re not trusted with our recommendation about a vaccine, then why are you trusting us to take care of you when you’re dying, or having a heart attack or cancer? There’s this disconnect that I can’t understand.
You have a solution that can save lives. Why not take that first step, that easy step? At least give the vaccine a try.