Gloria approves Biden's focus on vaccination amid omicron surge
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Hope for a normal holiday season has trickled away with each day's headlines about the Omicron variant new case numbers are climbing dramatically as this highly contagious variant circulates among a population with waning immunity. And as always with COVID researchers are struggling to figure out exactly what can kind of danger, Ohn poses and how to fight it. Joining me for a weekly COVID update is Dr. Eric Topel director of the scripts research translational Institute in LA Jolla. And Dr. Topel welcome.
Speaker 2: (00:34)
Thanks Maureen. Always good to be with you
Speaker 1: (00:36)
Now, the breaking news today is that the FDA has authorized as the first antiviral pill against COVID. Tell us about the pill PAX livid. Yes,
Speaker 2: (00:47)
This is actually Maureen. The biggest thing that happened, uh, beyond vaccines for the pandemic. I say that for a number of reasons, firstly, up until now, we've relied on our immune system to help fight the virus vaccines and then mono Sonal antibodies. But with am crime, we learned that there's a problem with vaccines and Monolo antibodies because it can escape our immune system to a significant extent. The great part about Paxil as a pill, when taken early, even up to five days, it will work in immunocompromised people, even it works against Amron and it has it's an 89% reduction in hospitalizations or death, which is really striking and it was as safe or even slightly safer than placebo in two randomized trials. One other big bonus. It lowers the viral load in our upper airway by at least tenfold. So it will reduce transmission and that's really important. And you have a hyper contagious virus that's out there right now with Alro.
Speaker 1: (01:47)
This is a Pfizer pill. This is Paxil again. Do you have to take just one pill?
Speaker 2: (01:52)
No, it actually is two pills. It's Paxil with ritonavir, which is used to increase the blood levels of Paxil. It's two tablets of Paxil. One, one VIR twice a day for five days comes an a blister pack. That's gonna be distributed throughout the United States in the next couple of days, but there's the problem. There's only 200,000 blister packs available and that's not nearly enough, which is why I called for president Biden to activate the defense production act or some a means of getting production, not to rely on just one company. This is a small molecule it's easy to make and we should be getting a mass produced so that it can be used throughout the world.
Speaker 1: (02:34)
Will people be prescribed the pill when they test positive, uh, considering that there are enough pills in circulation,
Speaker 2: (02:42)
Assuming that there's enough here in San Diego, they have to have our doctor's prescription to get the, the pill pack. And yes, that's what we envision happening as early as, um, the beginning of next week. That's right
Speaker 1: (02:54)
The beginning of next week, but, but how will the government ramp up production on the new
Speaker 2: (02:59)
Pill, the production right now, 6.1 company. And that's not enough. We need other companies to make this at scale quickly. And we've been talking, you know, for a whole year about global vaccine equity. Now we're gonna be talking about global pill equity. So that's our problem right now. It's gonna be in short supply and, uh, the access to it is gonna be challenging.
Speaker 1: (03:21)
I also wanna take you back on what we just heard in the previous report, UC San Diego's decision to go back to online classes next month. Is that a good idea?
Speaker 2: (03:31)
It's the only logical thing. Once we saw what happened in Cornell where 97% of the students were back. And then with a matter of days, uh, after coming back from Thanksgiving break, there were over 500 students that were infected with Aron and then the whole town in Tompkins county Ithaca also took a big hit. So it's a safe thing to do right now. I think, uh, applaud U C S D from making that at move. The university environment is tough, but it doesn't have to be, uh, protracted, unfortunately it's coinciding with the holiday break anyway. So I don't think this is a long term, uh, situation, but in light of what we've seen at Cornell and other universities, it's a wise move
Speaker 1: (04:16)
And all CSU schools, including San Diego state, they, they're not saying they're gonna go back online, but they'll now require everyone on campus to have a booster shot. Is that enough of a precaution?
Speaker 2: (04:28)
Well, we wanna really get the precautions up there. It would be the booster. Yes, third shot and rapid tests. Um, that, that combination, uh, along with indoor masking, you know, gets close to a full protection, but, you know, unfortunately we don't use all the things with air filtration, CO2 monitoring, uh, keeping, uh, ventilation windows open. We don't do all the things that we can do to stave off the virus.
Speaker 1: (04:56)
Now, of course, yesterday, uh, president Biden announced he's making 500 million free COVID tests available to Americans and that's supposed to start next month. How is that gonna help against this surge?
Speaker 2: (05:09)
Well, it's about a year overdue Maureen, but it's good. Uh, the only problem is 500 million in a country or 330 million people. Won't get us very far in Colorado. They're distributing by mail, uh, several tests to each resident, uh, uh, on a frequent basis. That's what we should be doing in California. The, uh, the new plan, sometime in January, it isn't specified how we're gonna get access to those tests is obviously gonna be very limited because 500 million in such a big country is not gonna very far, but we should get many billions of rapid tests, widely distributed, cuz they will help us manage the pandemic they've been validated, uh, extensively they're used and relied upon in many other countries around the world. And we're way behind on that.
Speaker 1: (05:58)
So it sounds like the pill is as far as you're concerned, a complete game changer when it comes to COVID. Yeah,
Speaker 2: (06:04)
I, you know, a lot of people use that term or game changer, but I just see the pandemic. It isn't a game, you know, it's like, this is serious stuff, but yes, this is transformative. As I said, it's the biggest thing since vaccines to help us in the pandemic, it will be a very big advance in our tool chest to deal with any version of the virus.
Speaker 1: (06:26)
Okay. So I, I wanna close this though by acknowledging the fact that no matter what people are going to travel this holiday to see family and friends, mm-hmm, , we've already heard that the airports are expecting, um, a lot of crowding. Everything is expecting crowds this holiday. So what's your advice?
Speaker 2: (06:45)
Well, I totally respect the, um, their desire, uh, for people in need to travel, uh, over the holidays. Uh, there are many things that you can do, um, certainly using better, uh, high quality mass, like K N 90 fives, uh, would be a, a, an important, uh, part of that. Uh, you know, I would like, and I have called for, uh, our administration to make, uh, flights only by passengers with triple vaccination or two shots in with less, uh, four months from their second shot. We haven't done that. That would help because you're sitting on a plane for hours. Uh, and it's not good when you can have anybody join, uh, board, the plane who is not vaccinated or not, uh, boosted that would help. We don't have that enacted. It is the case by the way, Maureen and Canada and many other countries. And I just don't understand why that hasn't happened here. That would make, uh, travel more safe for everyone.
Speaker 1: (07:45)
Okay. I have been speaking with Dr. Eric Topel director of the scripts research translational Institute in LA Jolla and our frequent guest on this topic. Dr. Topel have a wonderful holiday. You
Speaker 2: (07:58)
Too, you and all crew at KPBS.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria on Tuesday said he agreed with President Joe Biden's speech on the latest resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly Biden's focus on vaccinations.
"This president understands that the way out of the pandemic is through vaccines. Vaccines are safe, effective, free and widely available," Gloria said. "Everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted should do so as soon as possible to protect their families, neighbors and communities."
San Diego County's case rates have risen significantly in the last several days, with more than 1,000 cases reported three of the last four days, the first time that has happened since the summer spike.
"Local experts predict that San Diego will experience a surge in the coming days," Gloria said. "Hospitals across the nation are filling up with unvaccinated individuals, delaying care for all patients, including victims of car accidents and other trauma. Everyone is affected when our health care system becomes overburdened.
"My message to San Diegans is simple: get vaccinated. Do not wait," he added. "It's up to each one of us to protect each other and support stability in our health care system by vaxxing and masking to stop the spread of COVID-19."
In his speech Tuesday, Biden attempted to reassure Americans they could go about their holiday plans in spite of the surge in Omicron variant COVID-19 cases by announcing several efforts to combat the virus.
"I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends," Biden said. "The answer is, yes you can if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated, particularly if you've gotten your booster shot."
He also warned those who have declined to get shots that they run a much higher risk of becoming ill or hospitalized and said unvaccinated people have a duty to their families and their country to get vaccinated.
Biden also announced the purchase of 500 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests, to be available for free next month and sent through the mail.
"To be clear, we're not sending a test to every single home in the country," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during Tuesday's White House press briefing. "We are providing an opportunity, another opportunity or ability for people to ... go on a website and request a test if their preference is to get that test to their home. Not everybody will do that. But we want people who want to do that, who want to get tested, who want to request test that way to have that ability to do (it)."
Some said the testing plan was too little, too late.
"A start (finally), but billions are needed to help prevent spread," Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational
Institute, wrote on Twitter.
The White House said the first deliveries of the tests should begin next month and a website to order them will also launch after the New Year. Biden also revealed a plan for 1,000 medical military service members to deploy to hospitals across the country in January and February.