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As the delta variant continues to fuel the spread of COVID-19, misinformation continues to inhibit efforts to bring the coronavirus under control. To help the community better understand the current state and direction of the pandemic, Gregory Poland, M.D., head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, recently spoke at a virtual community forum.
Dr. Poland is a leading voice on the scientific evidence supporting the benefit of COVID-19 vaccines. In addition to having been a vaccinologist for four decades, Dr. Poland has chaired or been a member of every federal committee involved in vaccine decision-making, including the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
During the forum, Dr. Poland and Paul Mueller, M.D., regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System in Southwest Wisconsin, discussed the scientific truths supporting COVID-19 vaccines and the harm posed by untruths. They also addressed COVID-19 vaccination booster recommendations and how best to protect children who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Watch the webinar:
Here are a few highlights from Dr. Poland's presentation, which was followed by a Q&A session:
- Most hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are in unvaccinated people.
- While health systems nationwide have adequate personal protective equipment and robust safety protocols, they are dealing with staff fatigue and shortages. Many hospitals are full, including here in the Midwest.
- Over the past 18 months, 1 of every 490 people living in America has died from COVID-19.
- The delta variant is extraordinarily transmissible. An infected person on average spreads infection to five to nine other people. Part of that is because this variant has a significantly higher viral load, meaning the amount of virus in the body is 1,000–1,200 times higher than the original strain.
- In early September, there were 250,000 new cases in children and adolescents, and almost 2,400 children in the U.S. were hospitalized with COVID-19. Unfortunately, about 529 kids have died of COVID-19.
- About 30% of adults in the U.S. say they would not be vaccinated under any circumstance. This is remarkable to imagine happening in a country that has more literacy, more money and greater health than any population in history.
- This pandemic is a medical problem, so if people abandon science as a way to determine truth, they enter into a world of hurt. People reject vaccines for ill-formed and uninformed reasons, and they suffer devastating consequences.
- People in the U.S. are just behind Russia in terms of people trusting the scientific information they receive, and vaccine hesitancy issues range from hesitancy to outright rejection. Rejection has happened in the same proportion with every vaccine released in the U.S. since the first vaccine for smallpox in the 18th century.
- No one thing that will end the pandemic. There is no man-made product that's 100% effective. Mitigation includes getting vaccinated for everybody who doesn't have a contraindication, masking when indoors or in crowded outdoor venues, appropriate distancing, and perhaps, for some people under certain conditions, monoclonal antibodies.
- No vaccine has ever been studied to this degree, and with this degree of rigor and scrutiny prior to release.
- No human-made product is perfectly safe, and no human-made product ever will be. Instead, people need to balance risks and benefits, and choose those products that most benefit them and those around them. COVID-19 vaccines have some side effects, but they are less than not being vaccinated.
- Vaccines block disease ― not infection. With greater levels of vaccination, the number of people who are asymptomatic increases, and the number who die or get hospitalized, or have severe disease, decreases.
During the Q&A, Drs. Poland and Mueller continued their discussion about COVID-19 misinformation, including details about vaccination side effects, breakthrough infection, hospitalization rates and COVID-19 studies.