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Vaccinations Still Best Defense Against Contagious Delta Variant

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Though 70 percent of eligible San Diego County residents are now fully vaccinated, the Delta variant continues to spread.

Speaker 1: 00:00 With 70% of eligible San Diego county residents fully vaccinated, the Delta variant continues to spread so much. So it's prompted officials to require county employees to get vaccinated or get weekly testing. California is also the first in the nation to implement measures, to encourage state employees and healthcare workers to get vaccinated. So how will this impact vaccination efforts and where do they stand across the county now? Infectious disease specialists. Dr. Mark Sawyer is a member of San Diego counties. COVID-19 vaccine clinical advisory group. And joins us to answer that question, doctor. Oh, you're welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:38 Thanks. I'm glad to be here. So has

Speaker 1: 00:40 San Diego county seen a cha a change in its vaccination rate as the Delta variant has taken hold and infection rates?

Speaker 2: 00:49 Well, there you're right. That that story is rapidly changing. Uh, the county does track how many doses are given in the county every week. And the data as of last week, suggested a little bit about increased rate of vaccination. So I'm hopeful that the publicity around the Delta virus is leading some people to change their mind and go out and get backs. Unaided. Those numbers will be updated, I think even later today. So we'll have a better picture, uh, later today. And then continue to monitor that

Speaker 1: 01:20 You have any idea, whether the recent rise in cases is actually convincing those who have been vaccine hesitant to now get vaccine.

Speaker 2: 01:28 Well, I don't have any solid data on that, but anecdotally I've certainly heard stories from people who put it off all this time. And now in the face of needing to go back to masks and threaten our ability to circulate out in the community and go to school and gathering gatherings is motivating some people to finally go out and get backs to name it, you know,

Speaker 1: 01:49 For people who still don't trust the vaccine though, and are hearing news, that breakthrough cases are on the rise and that some vaccinated people can carry the same viral load as unvaccinated people. What are you telling me?

Speaker 2: 02:03 Yeah, there's lots of information flowing. It may be hard for everybody to digest. So, so I want to start off by saying the vast majority of people who are still getting hospitalized with COVID are the unvaccinated people. It's not vaccinated people with breakthrough disease. They make up less than 1% of the total. So if you're avoiding vaccine, because you don't think it works, you're not looking at the information correctly. The backseat definitely works at keeping you out of the hospital, keeping you from dying from COVID. And most of the people who are getting so-called breakthrough disease have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but it is true that we've now learned in the last few weeks that the Delta variant can infect people. Who've been vaccinated and they can replicate the virus in their nose and throat and they can be contagious. And why we're seeing the mask mandates coming back, because we need to break the transmission cycle, even from those people who are vaccinated and still get infected. What role do you

Speaker 1: 03:11 See vaccine mandates playing in increasing vaccinations in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 03:16 I think we're seeing a sort of in the momentum increasing behind vaccine mandates, everybody's aware of the federal and state efforts along those lines. The university of California has issued a mandate for everybody coming to UC campuses. I think it's a very important public health intervention that we really need to do. You know, we've tried our best to convince people that the vaccine is in their best interest, but we've got still 30, 40% of the population who doesn't seem to agree with that. And they're the ones who are really aggravating this outbreak. And if we don't get our head around, COVID, it's going to keep developing new variants. Some that are even worse than the ones we've had so far. So we really need to get our population immunized and shut down the circulation.

Speaker 1: 04:06 You know, we hear about vaccines also being key to stopping mutations and variants. So I kind of want to talk about schools a bit now. I mean, do you think sending children back to school could potentially give this virus more opportunity to spread mutate and vary among children who don't have access to the vaccine?

Speaker 2: 04:25 Yeah, that's a great question. And it's being, you know, being thoroughly discussed right now and school boards and, and, and county health departments that are playing a role in making decision about school until Delta showed up, we were in really very good shape to reopen schools fully, and the schools are prepared. They've taken lots of measures to prevent transmission, but we do know that the Delta variant is much more contagious than previous version. So we are unlikely to see some transmission in schools that needs to be weighed against the benefit of kids going back to school, which is immense. And I don't think we've talked about it. Enough children are suffering both in terms of their education, but also their socialization and their mental health by not being in school. I think we all know that children in school age children are not likely to get severe disease. So I think from my point of view, the risk benefit favors still going back to school. But again, this is why we need to get as many people immunized to have access to the backseat. So we don't have a big upswing in infections when kids go back to school, what's the biggest

Speaker 1: 05:37 Challenge for pediatricians right now. I know you, you happen to be one and you were just at a conference. What, what was the biggest, uh, talk there?

Speaker 2: 05:46 You know, the, the frustration we have as physicians is, is essentially convincing people that, you know, we're, we're in, we have their best interest in mind when we are strongly recommending this vaccine or everybody that I know, every pediatrician that I know has been immunized and has had their family get immunized. You know, when people say they don't trust the vaccine, we have over 200 million people have been immunized just in the United States with MRN vaccines over this last year plus. And so we have a lot of information, a lot of data on the safety and that's being very transparently shared with the community. So people have heard about my own carditis and clotting events, but those things are, although are, are there and are definitely linked to the vaccine. They are very, very rare and infection is not rare. As, as you read every day in the newspaper, this infection is spreading widely. And the best thing we can do to protect our families and our loved ones, and stay as close to business as usual is to get back [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 06:57 As a pediatrician. What advice are you giving parents of kids under 12, who are unable to get vaccinated today?

Speaker 2: 07:04 Yeah, I think, you know, they need to, uh, send their kids to school. First of all, and advising them that the schools are taking every measure possible to limit translation. That's things like increasing the ventilation in the rooms, spacing out kids as much as possible, uh, having good sanitation or hand-washing facilities available the schools that are ready for kids to come back and, and kids are ready to go back. They may not agree, but they need to go back to school to, for all the reasons that we've already talked about. So I think parents should not be anxious about sending their kids back, particularly if the parents and everyone else at home is immunized. That's, that's the whole issue here. Then we don't, it's not such a big deal. If we get a little transmission in schools, your kids, aren't going to get very sick. And if they bring it home, nobody at home is going to get sick because they're immunized. I have been

Speaker 1: 08:00 Speaking with Dr. Mark Sawyer and infectious disease specialist with Rady children's hospital and member of San Diego county's COVID-19 vaccine clinical advisory group. Dr. Sawyer. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.