Covid Catch-Up

Clearing the COVID air

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

By Kit Geary

Contributing Writer

It’s a new year, and there are new variants. South Africa, The UK, and Brazil all had new variants emerge during the last few winter months. The CDC has confirmed that “these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants.” The world scrambles as it tries to figure out how to deal with a mutating virus. 

  At this point, we are all accustomed to the ever-changing nature of new information about COVID-19. Yet, a slew of new information is generally accompanied by myths and rumors. I got a chance to learn more about new Coronavirus variants and talk about myths and rumors with Dana Farber’s Alex Lynch and Janice MacGillivray. COVID-19 continues to change as we head into the spring. Do we need to change the precautions we are taking to keep up with this evolving virus? 

Alex Lynch is a Physician’s Assistant at the oncology and hematology unit for Dana Farber at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Lynch stands on the front lines for her patients dealing with COVID-19 and cancer every day in one of the most reputable hospitals on the East Coast. 

Question: Many people believe that once you have had COVID, you cannot contract it again. Is there truth to this statement?

Lynch: I can tell you for sure that I have had patients who have been admitted to the hospital months apart with COVID. Whether that was the persistence of the same infection or infection of a different virus, I can’t say for sure. We know that after you have a viral infection you usually develop antibodies. The antibodies should protect you from getting the virus again. What we don’t know, however, is how long those antibodies last. There have been reports of patients getting reinfected, possibly because they were exposed to a different strain of the virus, their prior antibodies were not effective upon reinfection, or their antibodies did not exist. 

With the vaccine right now we don’t know how long the antibodies from the vaccine are going to last. That’s something they’re looking into. Are people going to need a booster shot? Will you need a shot every year? We have good reason to believe that antibodies will last for about 90 days, but it doesn’t mean you cannot get COVID again. How long covid antibodies exist we just don’t know.

Question: “ A COVID-19 infection will last only two weeks.” Is this statement true or false?

There are definitely cases of COVID that last longer than two weeks. I have patients in the COVID unit who have been consistently positive for a month or two. For most people with a normal immune system, the level of the virus should be detectable after two weeks. The antibodies should have acted, making the viral load low enough to be less detectable. Patients who are hospitalized for severe symptoms of the virus are recommended to isolate for 20 days. Some people will be clear after two weeks, and others will continue to test positive after those two weeks.

Question: New variants of COVID-19 seem to be popping up weekly, will the vaccines we have right now protect us against new strains?

Lynch : That’s the million-dollar question. The short answer is we don’t know. According to the infectious disease group I work with, the vaccines we have now the new variants will be sensitive to. They will help protect people from the virus. Many fear that the vaccine will not be able to protect us because of the notion that the virus will mutate, become stronger, and confuse the vaccine for not recognizing it is the strain it is after. Of the different variants we know of now, the vaccine will protect us against the virus. When Moderna and Pfizer were past clinical trials, the South African strain hit the United States, leaving many doctors and passions worried that the vaccine may not be able to fight that strain. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine is currently going through the approval process and has been since some of these new variants emerged. 

Fortunately, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine involves one dose and should be wildly available fairly soon. Although, people are nervous about Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine because it is only around 50 percent effective compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which have around a 90 percent effective rate. It is important to note that everyone who has gotten the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has not died and has not been hospitalized. It’s ok if you get sniffles if you’re home, we just don’t want people dying. How else do you envision this pandemic ending? If not for the vaccine, a lot of people put a lot of thought into this and it’s really effective.

Question: Major newspapers have been reporting that wearing two masks, or at least masks with three layers, should be the new norm. Should we all be doing this?

Lynch: The harder it is for particles to escape your face, the less likely you are to spread the virus or catch it. You wearing a mask protects me and everyone in your presence. If I don’t wear a mask, for example, it won’t protect you all that much because my droplets could get on your face or hands. It’s most effective when everyone wears a mask if you are around others. The point of wearing double masks or teacher masks is to make sure you don’t inhale any droplets or particles that may be in the air. The more layers you have, the more barriers these droplets have to go through, the less likely you are to inhale any particles.

Janice MacGillivray is the Chief Physicians Assistant at Dana Farber at Birghman and Women’s Hospital oncology and Hematology unit. MacGillivray oversees the other Physician Assistants and deals with a wide array of patients. She always has to keep herself informed about COVID updates in order to treat her patients.

Question: Many people believe that once you have had COVID, you cannot contract it again. Is there truth to this statement?

MacGillivray: That’s definitely not true from what science has shown so far. Some people tend to have immunity for 3 months or so, we don’t really know. This is interesting because the vaccine probably won’t last longer than normal immunity does. If natural immunity only lasts three months then arguably the vaccine will only last three months. You could get infected by a different strain: you could also get infected like you could with the flu back to back years. Most people are sick much longer than two weeks. Most people are sick for 3-6 weeks. 

Question: “ A COVID-19 infection will last only two weeks.” 

Is this statement true or false?

MacGillivray:It’s dependent on a person’s immune system. Most people are sick much longer than two weeks. Most people are sick for 3-6 weeks. 

Question: New variants of COVID-19 seem to be popping up weekly, will the vaccines we have right now protect us against new strains?

MacGillivray:From what I have learned the vaccines will provide some amount of protection from the new strands. I have read Moderna is not as good as Pzfizer with some of these new strains. The strains developed after the vaccines went through clinical trials. It’s possible that we will need a booster vaccine that has some of the changes to the spike protein of the Coronavirus. We will all need to get vaccinated annually.The question is will they be able to update the vaccines before next year or will we need a booster before then. 

Question: Major newspapers have been reporting that wearing two masks, or at least masks with three layers, should be the new norm. Should we all be doing this?

MacGillivray:That’s definitely what Doctor Faucci is saying. These new strains are more varialant. The more layers of protection you have the better.

Write A Comment