Scripps Research Director Weighs In On CDC Data That Shows Vaccinated Can Spread COVID
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / July 30, 2021
An internal document from the CDC indicates that the Delta variant is more transmissible than initially thought, and that infections from the strain are more severe than that of previous variants.
Speaker 1: 00:00 And internal report from the CDC has indicated the Delta variant of COVID-19 is more transmissible than initially thought. Even among vaccinated people. The document goes on to say, health officials must acknowledge the war has changed. And the nationwide fight against the virus. Joining me with more is Dr. Eric Topo director of the Scripps research translational Institute in LA Jolla. Dr. Topo, welcome back to the
Speaker 2: 00:27 Thank you. Great to be with you.
Speaker 1: 00:29 Data is not expected to be officially released until this afternoon, but the Washington post published reporting with early access. What new data does this internal document from the CDC? Tell us about the Delta
Speaker 2: 00:43 Area. Well, most of it was not new at all, but there's been a big hullabaloo about it, I guess, because it was leaked and it wasn't presented by the CDC, but ultimately we've known for months that the Delta Viren was highly, highly contagious. And so that's why it's been likened to chickenpox and other very contagious illnesses that's been known. There's nothing new about that. The only real new thing here is that among people who are vaccinated because of that high load, it's overriding people. Who've been vaccinated, not a large number, a small number, but they can have this viral load that tie and transmit the virus to others. So that's the new wrinkle here is that if you're vaccinated, you're not a hundred percent protected. We've known you weren't a hundred percent, but this puts a little further den in that protective, uh, level San Diego
Speaker 1: 01:33 County, you know, about 70% of the eligible population are vaccinated. You've said we need about 90% vaccination to stop is Delta variant. Can you explain how you've come to that number? Given what the CDC is now saying about the transmissibility? The virus,
Speaker 2: 01:49 What we want to look at is more the total population, because if you just look at eligible over age 12, San Diego has done reasonably well, certainly well ahead of the country, but you have places like Vermont that are at 68% of the total population or San Francisco, 69% of their total population. So it's a much higher figure. Now why that is important is because this is a much more challenging strain of the virus and because it's so darn contagious, what we originally had projected that is a 70% of adults providing some population level immunity. That's no longer the case because it gets so much spread. We have to up our defense. And that means getting as high as possible. Some estimates of 90%. Now it's important to point out. It's not just vaccine. If people have had prior COVID that also contributes that natural immunity. It's not as good as having prior COVID and getting one dose of a vaccine. But the point being is the people that build the Delta wall of immunity are those who've had fully vaccinated or had prior COVID. And we need that number to be over 90% of all people. And if we get there, then we'll have the highest level of protection. Then we'll start to see the people who have no prior covert have no vaccines that they get protected just because of our community. Many
Speaker 1: 03:15 In the region remain hesitant to get the vaccine. And you've pointed to the need for full FDA approval to get us to where we need to be. What's your understanding of why these vaccines don't yet have full approval?
Speaker 2: 03:27 There is no good reason, uh, it should have been done by now, as you know, when I wrote the New York times op-ed weeks ago, there was a clear rationale that the Delta variant was going to cause very significant toll of infections and hospitalization as it's occurring, especially in certain parts of the country. Uh, and it was an emergency to get this thing done. And the FDA has had now over seven months to work on this because the full approval packet was being submitted, uh, serially starting in December for both the MRN vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, and only in recent hours, am I learning that the FDA is starting to put full resources of the entire agency onto this? So I am optimistic that we'll see a full approval in the weeks ahead. The problem is it's months overdue had we had the full approval. We would have had tens of millions of more people vaccinated by now because it would become a requirement for so many different entities we've seen in recent the past week, especially the mandate starting, but they would have started much earlier where the full approval granted by FDA had gone forward as it should have, you know, while the, the Delta variant
Speaker 1: 04:40 Was the dominant strain in other countries, the U S began relaxing public health mandates. Do you think we've been proactive enough in this fight against
Speaker 2: 04:48 COVID? Not at all? No, because for example, if we had rapid tests, these rapid paper tests, like other countries that are given freely to households, large number of them, so they have a supply, they could test frequently every day, if need be as they, before they go out. And that would be ideal for schools, for travel for just going out to a shop or a restaurant or anything. And so we don't use that measure. And it's one of the critical tools that would especially help now because we can't differentiate people who are vaccinated, even though it's unusual, they could be carrying the infection that is in the days before they manifest symptoms. So w we're only firing on the one cylinder of relying on vaccination, but unfortunately, as you pointed out, too many people have been not getting vaccinated for one reason or another.
Speaker 1: 05:39 You know, some say San Diego county has also been slow to revert back to requiring masking amid the Delta surge. What message do you have for, for public health officials here? And what more do you think needs to be done?
Speaker 2: 05:53 We got to get back to masking indoors for sure, across the board. You know, that's, especially if you're going to be endorsed for any length of time, you know, more than a few minutes. And especially when you're with the group of people in an unventilated room, I mean, that's a recipe for trouble. So the mass help, the better quality, the mass help even more. So we should be doing that. You know, the problem we've had consistently in the pandemic is, you know, well, after when we can take proactive actions, now that Delta is almost every infection is a Delta infection. Then we finally wake up, you know, it's to fill the unfortunate. We knew exactly every 10 days that Delta was going to double. I mean, we could, we could see this and we've done nothing until it's gotten to the point that it's at now, but it's still not too late. And we still should be redoubling our efforts to add to the vaccine protection, get more people vaccinated as quickly as we can get masks going, try to get these rapid tests, widely distributed, try to get better masks out to everyone, get better tracking. All these things will help. You mentioned
Speaker 1: 06:56 The importance of masks, uh, what's the best kind of mask for people to wear?
Speaker 2: 07:01 Well, there's an N 95. You can get them. They are now have adequate supply. You can order them from Amazon and other outlets, but they're still pretty expensive. They're, you know, at least three or $4 or more each, and then there's some that are counterfeit. So you have to be very careful that they're, they're a certified, there's a K 90 fours. There's several that are as good a protection as these very high quality mass that are cheaper, more like a dollar each or less. And so they're probably just as good as the N 90. Um, but you know, something at that level of quality and even consider double masking that that's what I'm doing now. I will use a and 95 and a cover of that. These are things that we should be doing until the Delta wave passes. It won't be long. I mean, we're probably, you know, at least another six to eight weeks, we get through that and Delta will be down at levels that will not be worrisome. We've got to gear up until that point. Is there anything
Speaker 1: 07:58 Else you, you want to mention or talk about that, that we
Speaker 2: 08:00 Haven't, you know, there's no need to panic. We've got great vaccines. They're terrific, but we got to get them in more folks and follow the science, the safe and effectiveness of these vaccines are remarkable safety. And, um, you know, that should be something that we're doing well in San Diego, but we could do better, you know, up in the north, Sandy, San Francisco, county's done far better in getting folks vaccinated. And, uh, they're doing better with preventing some of the increase in hospitalizations. So we should learn from them. We should learn, especially from Vermont, that's holding tight. If we can get those explanations up at the highest level, we'll be able to fend off Delta much better. When
Speaker 1: 08:36 We first started this interview, you mentioned that the wrinkle in this is that there's now transmissibility among the vaccinated, but it's a small amount of people who are still transmitting this virus though. They're vaccinated. Do you think that that could change?
Speaker 2: 08:49 Well, it's going to get worse because you know, over time there's more exposure to the virus. So we're going to see more breakthrough infections and some more of those folks are going to get sick and some get hospitalized. So the early case with the variant alpha beta gamma, we didn't see this, the vaccine held up really well here. This is a much more challenging variant because of the very high load. And so, you know, that's, even though it's unusual, we'll see more people should be prepared for that. And that's just all the more reason to take precautions. So, you know, I think there's going to be consideration for booster shots. We would hope that eventually we'll get a, a universal vaccine against all Corona viruses in the months ahead. But, you know, I think right now we have to watch that point that this is a really tough strain of the virus and the fact that vaccinated people can get it.
Speaker 2: 09:42 Uh, even though it's not high frequency and you just don't know among your vaccinated family and friends, you just don't know, uh, could they be a carrier in the early days, uh, once they've been infected and whether they're even infectious, that's why the guidance with rapid testing could really help this so much. But, you know, I think our guard has to be up at this point. It's not for a long time, but for this next several weeks, uh, is when it's going to be important, would you go to a baseball game right now? If you're outside, you know, the chances are extremely low. I, you know, the only problem with being outside of your, if people are screaming and they're right at you, there's that theoretical possibility of an infection. It's, it's very low, but that's something to think about, you know, if you are outdoors and just taking a walk and you're not having somebody breathe on, you yell at you, sing on you or whatever is different. So, you know, it's a matter of risk tolerance. You know, people have to make that decision themselves. There is some risks being close together with people, you know, yelling and screaming because that's where you get a lot more virus particles. And some of those people potentially, especially with Delta are going to have a knowingly, uh, in the early times of being infected. I've been
Speaker 1: 10:55 Speaking with Dr. Eric Topol, director of the script's research translational Institute and the Hoya Dr. Topol. Thank you very much for joining us today. Thanks for having me.