Dr. Patel speaks on vaccines, herd immunity, and rising cases

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Dr. Brian Patel of Study Memorial Hospital spoke on Covid-19 vaccines and their effectiveness at a meeting of the Board of Health on Tuesday, Oct. 5. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Although the turnout was small, there was no shortage of interest during a discussion on Covid-19 vaccines.

Led by Dr. Brian Patel of Sturdy Memorial Hospital, the vaccine forum was held during the Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5. Around 20 people were in attendance, and asked a variety of questions on the vaccines and ongoing Covid situation.

In his opening remarks, Patel said that vaccinations have become an intense discussion as of late, but it boils down to this being the best way to bring the pandemic to an end. He said that 65 percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated so far, with Massachusetts among the top five states.

It’s the big reason we’re not seeing the same surges that the rest of the country is seeing,” said Patel, who was recently named Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs, Chief Medical Officer, and Chief Quality Officer for Sturdy Memorial Hospital.

Patel added that with the vaccination rate in Massachusetts so high, medical staff haven’t had to ration care due to limited resources. He said the vaccine has been proven safe—with over 400 million doses given to date—and it’s effective against all strains of Covid, even the more dangerous Delta variant. He added that while there have been instances of people having adverse reactions—some very serious—one must look at the data as a whole when deciding whether it is safe, as opposed to individual instances.

It’s been pretty clear that the vaccine has proven to be safe and the data supports that,” he said.

Many in the audience had questions for Patel. One resident asked about potential complications for young children or women who are pregnant. He said for these demographics, while there have been some negative reactions, these have been in very low numbers. Another asked if the vaccine could become an annual dosage, as it is with the flu. Patel said it is too soon to say, that more data has to be reviewed before an annual dosage could be determined.

It will be decided after looking at the data and the variants,” he said.

Heath Hobson, who has been at many of the Board of Health and School Committee meetings, asked about herd immunity and the role it has played in bringing the pandemic to an end. Patel said that studies have shown that those who contract Covid-19 develop antibodies that can last for three months, but there have been cases where this protection has gone for six or seven months. When asked about the rising cases in Vermont, Patel said he hadn’t read enough on that to speak on the subject.

Patel also spoke on information and how it can be misinterpreted. He told the audience that the CDC was the best source of information, and all research goes through it. He advised that when reading articles to go the source to ensure it has been accurately referenced.

Be careful taking things from social media sites,” he said.

Speaking to The Reporter after the meeting, Patel said that in similar forums, much of the questions have been on the vaccine, the speed at which it was developed, and potential adverse or long-term effects. For the latter, he said it is too soon to accurately say whether long-term effects are possible.

We’ve only had the vaccine for a year, you know, so I think you can’t really look at long-term effects,” he said. “It’s a short amount of time.”

In early June, Covid cases practically stopped, but since July they have drastically increased. In September, 161 cases were reported in North Attleborough. Patel said this surge isn’t a mirror of what was seen in 2020, and in Massachusetts it has been considerably less than other states.

There’s been times where it’s gone down and gone back up again,” he said. “But it’s definitely been trending down most recently in Massachusetts.”