On September 28, 2021, PHLCVB Chief Health Advisor and Dean Emeritus of Jefferson’s College of Population Health, Dr. David Nash, and Dr. Leonard Friedland, Vice President, Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health for GSK Vaccines and PHL Life Sciences Board Member, returned for another PHLCVB-sponsored webinar to discuss the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, rapid testing, and protocols for safe gatherings and events that will get us “back in business.”
Read on for highlights from the webinar and to view the session.
“The pandemic of the unvaccinated”
Dr. Friedland stressed that being fully vaccinated is critical at gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread and that the virus will find those who are vulnerable. “What we’re experiencing now is the pandemic of the unvaccinated,” declared Dr. Leonard Friedland, contending that the country needs to mandate vaccines. “COVID is going to find you if you aren’t vaccinated,” warned Dr. David Nash. “The Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing the breakthrough infections and twenty seven percent of people in the hospital in U.S. are children,” affirmed Friedland.
As for getting a COVID-19 “booster” shot, Dr. Nash responded that we should instead think of it as “completing the vaccination series.” Just as is standard practice with other routine vaccines, including Hepatitis, Shingles and HPV, an additional dose is needed at least 6 months after getting the original, to provide long term protection and prevent breakthrough cases. And, with flu season approaching, Dr. Friedland recommended getting the influenza vaccine along with the COVID-19 dose. “Vaccines are part of being immune fit.”
“We could have crushed this a year ago with testing”
Dr. Nash underscored adding rapid testing to protocols for safe gatherings and events. “I am still convinced we could have crushed this a year ago with more massive and pooled testing all of the time.” Revisiting the “Swiss cheese model,” he described four slices that line up for the best protection: one is getting vaccinated, second is wearing a mask, third is social distancing and fourth is getting an antigen test. Each slice has holes but if all four are lined up, the chances are greater that the holes will be blocked, and the virus will be prevented from coming through. “Every slice of Swiss cheese is another layer of protection. That’s the formula for safe meetings,” stated Nash.
Philadelphia recently employed this formula to host the largest event in the city in 18 months, Natural Products Expo East, with more than 15,000 attendees. The organizers worked with the team at the PHLCVB and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, following guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, to put a thorough safety plan in place including testing and certification of vaccines, along with enforcement of mask wearing. “In Philadelphia, everybody is masked up and vaccination is key,” pointed out Dr. Friedland. “We have a high percentage (84%) of the population who are vaccinated.”
“Got to stick to the science”
Championing the science that will help us emerge from the pandemic, Dr. Friedland presented an overview of the production history for the COVID-19 vaccine. Building on the research from SARS in 2003 and the subsequent MRS pandemic and decades of additional coronavirus research, the cumulative knowledge allowed scientists to quickly bring COVID vaccine to clinical trials, facilitated by the numerous COVID cases. Robust clinical trials led to impactful data and to market. He maintained that by spring 2022, we can turn the corner, with recent news that the Pfizer vaccine has been going through clinical trials and authorization for children ages 5-11 may be possible by the end of October. Studies are ongoing for children six months to age five. “If we get children vaccinated, will reduce the reservoir of unvaccinated pockets in our country,” said Friedland.
And whether we are ever going to be done with COVID-19, Dr. Nash estimated, “this will become background music, endemic, and we will live with it.” He urged the U.S. to set the standard for the rest of the world. “It’s patriotic to get vaccinated and wear a mask…care for our fellow citizens. We’ve got to stick to the science. We can’t crush it until it is crushed everywhere. We’re all in it together. We’re a global community.” Dr. Friedland added, “if we lead by example, we’ll be in a better place than where we were,” to which Dr. Nash replied that, “the best thing to do to get back to business is to get vaccinated.”
Cover photo of Natural Products East Expo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.