VOICES

 

Coronavirus COVID-19, Delta Variant, SARS-CoV-2 Related Voices

OCTOBER 1, 2021

Don Lemon of CNN's "Don Lemon Tonight" speaking about unnecessary deaths from COVID and the forthcoming anti-viral drug from Merck with Dr. Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also the Co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics:

Don Lemon: "So, breaking just moments ago, it's really a grim milestone. The U.S. passing the heartbreaking milestone of 700,000 deaths from COVID-19. All 700,000 memorialized on the National Mall. There it is right there. That as California, the most populous state in the nation, becomes the first to mandate the COVID vaccine for students who want to attend school in-person.

And Merck announces an anti-viral drug that will cut the risk of COVID hospitalizations and death by 50 percent, that's according to the company. So also, tonight, American Airlines announcing that they will have a vaccine mandate for their workers.

So, let's break it down now with Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the co-director at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Good evening, sir. I appreciate you joining us. We got a lot to talk about actually. So, we have this sobering milestone. Seven hundred thousand deaths from COVID. More than any other country. So many of these deaths were preventable. What's your thoughts?"

Dr. Peter Hotez: "Don, I'm especially thinking about the last 100,000 deaths, which occurred during this Delta wave over the summer despite the widespread availability of safe and effective vaccines.

So almost all of those 100,000 deaths were among the unvaccinated despite the fact that they could have gotten vaccinated. Almost all of those 100,000 deaths were preventable, were unnecessary. This is what I'm calling death -- I don't even call it misinformation or disinformation anymore. I call it death by anti-science aggression, and this has now become one of the leading killers in the United States, far more than global terrorism or nuclear proliferation or cyberattacks, and yet, we really don't do anything to combat it.

I've been calling this death by anti-science and writing and speaking about it now for a few years, and it's just gotten so out of control and it's just completely heartbreaking."

Don Lemon: "Yeah. You know, there's -- with that grim news, there is very promising news from Merck to tell everyone about. The first anti-viral pill designed for COVID-19. How does that work? Is it a game changer?"

Dr. Peter Hotez: "Yeah, actually the drug was actually first developed at Emory University in Atlanta and it was developed as an anti-influenza drug and it was shown to inhibit virus replication and then it was subsequently shown it does this for the SARS 2 coronavirus.

It's a very interesting mechanism that actually introduces mutations while the virus is trying to replicate and then that eventually stops it cold. And the great thing about it is it's an oral pill. Although it’s a lot of pills. I think it's something like four pills twice a day, so you wind up taking 40 pills or so.

But it works in terms of reducing the hospitalizations by half and in the control group, this was 775 patients with SARS 2 coronavirus, there were eight deaths in the control and none in the treatment group. So, it's still not a huge study but it was so compelling that the Data Safety Monitoring Board said stop, this looks like it's really promising and I think on this basis, Merck and company will file for emergency use authorization.

It has limits. You have to take it very early on in the course of the illness, probably a day or two after symptoms. You have to know that you are antigen positive. So, there is going to be some infrastructure that has to be put in place. But Merck is planning on success and I think they're trying to produce 10 million tablets by the end of the year. The other exciting part of this, Don, is unlike vaccines, which are very hard to reproduce and scale all over the world, this one is relatively straightforward. So just like Cipla in India makes anti-retroviral drugs, they should be able to make this one and I think the plans are to have at least five generic drug manufacturers in India and elsewhere start producing it.

So, I think the key message, though, to take home for tonight is, it's not a substitute for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 -"

Don Lemon: "That was my next question. Let me get to that because I want you to drill down just real quick, how many pills a day, you said?"

Dr. Peter Hotez: "My understanding is four pills twice a day. So, for five days. So, eight pills a day for five days, 40 pills."

Don Lemon: "OK. Got it. Forty pills. I thought you were saying in one day. I was like, that’s a lot of pills! I get it."

Dr. Peter Hotez: "No --"

Don Lemon: "I get it. But this is -- I want to drill down on what you were saying, because if the drug proves to be as effective as the company claims, are you worried that the vaccine hesitant people might say, ‘oh there’s a pill that I can take, why do -- why do I need to get the shot?’"

Dr. Peter Hotez: "That's exactly right. I don't want this to become Ivermectin version 2.0. It's not as good as getting vaccinated. It is a reduction in severity of illness. But there is going to be a big range on how people respond and it's vaccination that's going to save your life ultimately."

Don Lemon: "Yeah. So, this is not an alternative. You should get the vaccine and if you get -- happen to get COVID, this is approved, then take it, right? Yeah."

Dr. Peter Hotez: "Yeah, absolutely..."

SEPTEMBER 27, 2021

José Díaz-Balart on the new MSNBC program "José Díaz-Balart Reports" speaking with Cal Perry on how El Paso, TX has achieved herd immunity and the COVID statistics of El Paso versus the State of Texas:

José Díaz-Balart: "El Paso just reached a milestone in their vaccination effort by getting 75% of their eligible residents vaccinated. What’s El Paso’s secret?"

Cal Perry: "You know, I think one of the secrets here is that this is a bi-national city. This is a city that has had to deal with what we call the ‘border crisis’ on a daily basis and has had to do so for decades, so they have that community outreach. They have those community organizations that can get into the community and can then vaccinate 75% of people… over the age of 12. Those numbers are hugely impressive, and what it has done is it has flattened the curve here in El Paso. Last winter, we saw those refrigerated trucks that were filling with bodies. We saw hospitals like the one that I’m in front of overflowing, and now, we are not seeing that. The other thing that has made a big difference was that very dark time that this city went through. Take a listen to what Dr. Alozie told me yesterday:"

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Dr. Ogechika Alozie, El Paso Infectious Disease Specialist: “There was some data last year that actually showed if people were worried about COVID or they were planning to get a vaccine, it’s because they knew at least one person that had either been sick or died. And so in this community, it’s a very tight knit community, lots of multi-generational homes - people knew people that got sick, people knew people that died, and so that was a catalyst for them to go get it.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)

Cal Perry: "In the name of vaccinations, José, I’m just gonna to give you the stats. 75% of people over the age of 12 in El Paso County have been vaccinated. Compare that to just over 50% in the state of Texas. In the state of Texas, you have a positivity rate of 18%. Here, it’s 6%. In the state of Texas, 20% of hospital beds are at capacity because of COVID. Here, it’s 7%, so the vaccine is making a difference. Officials here hope that booster is going to make all the more difference in keeping El Paso safe, José."

José Díaz-Balart: "El Paso Strong..."

AUGUST 29, 2021

Jonathan Capehart of the MSNBC program "The Sunday Show" with his message to the unvaccinated and unmasked in "The Bye Line":

Jonathan Capehart: “… Some folks still aren’t taking this virus or the vaccine seriously…Yes, getting vaccinated is for our personal health and security, but it’s also our patriotic duty. The more of us who get vaccinated or wear masks properly at least, the sooner we will be able to get a handle on the pandemic and get back to a life of friends, gatherings and normalcy. And don’t get me started on the lunatics who won’t take any of the COVID vaccines, but are more than willing to pump themselves full of a livestock dewormer. You know the situation is serious when the F.D.A. felt compelled to issue the following tweet last week, and I quote, ‘You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.’

Let me repeat what I said last month, since we’re still surrounded by self proclaimed patriots mewling about their freedom. Your refusal to get the vaccine, or get in the way of mask mandates, or wear a mask properly is filling up hospitals and infringing on our freedom to live our lives free from the fear that you are going to cost the rest of us our wellbeing, all because you don’t trust science, or believe junk science, or don’t want to be told what to do. And, since this is your attitude, I have one cold but honest question for you: If you don’t care about the rest of us, why should we care about you?”

AUGUST 28, 2021

Charles Barkley, former professional NBA basketball player and analyst on "Inside the NBA", discussing the importance of getting the COVID vaccine:

"I'm just trying to urge everybody to quit being selfish and get the vaccine. You know, you don't get the vaccine for yourself. You get it for the people around you. You know, I hear a lot of I and me, like 'I don't wanna do this'. 'Me, I'm only concerned about me', but that's not the way the world works. I got the vaccine so I can go around other people, and it's really unfortunate that we have to beg people to get the vaccine. I mean, who don't want to live?"

AUGUST 18, 2021

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, speaking with Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC's "All In" about the COVID booster shot and vaccinating the world:

Dr. Francis Collins: "I mean, think of this as you're running a race. We've been doing that with this virus chasing after us. The vaccines came along. We had a chance to get well ahead. But then the Delta variant came along and the virus started catching up. So, now we need another sort of supercharged boost here to get us well ahead of what otherwise might happen. We're always trying to stay a little bit ahead of this virus so that people don't run into really serious illness. That's what we're trying to do."

(...)

Mehdi Hasan: "And when the WHO, the World Health Organization says that's exactly part of the problem - that America does have lots of vaccine doses but the rest of the world is facing a shortage, now is not the time, the W.H.O. is saying, for the American government to be giving a third shot when millions and millions of people around the world have not had a first shot?"

Dr. Francis Collins: "Well, I sure hear that, because I'm somebody who has been a passionate supporter of global health for my whole career. But, you know, the U.S. still does have a disproportionate amount of deaths and infections from this, so we do have to think about our people rather prominently.

And we are giving out doses. We will - we've committed over 600 million doses to the rest of the world. 115 million of those already sent out. We have made $4 billion contribution to COVAX. We're in that space. I think it is fair to say we can do both of these things without compromising one versus the other, but I totally hear the concern, and we need to watch that and do everything we can to ramp up our contributions to the rest of the world.

They're depending on us, and this is a tradition we want to stick with for all the decades that we've tried to be not just the soldier to the world, but the doctor to the world. This is the time to do that."

AUGUST 18, 2021

Dr. Richard Besser, the Former Acting Director of the C.D.C., speaking with Jim Sciutto of “CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto” regarding how booster shots will not end this pandemic and the importance of ensuring the entire world is vaccinated against COVID for the benefit of all:

Dr. Richard Besser: “I do think it’s really important though that we recognize that boosters is not going to end this pandemic. What’s going to end this pandemic is finding a way to motivate the 30-40% of people in this country who haven’t gotten any vaccines yet, and doing a much better job, a much better global job, at getting vaccines around the world, because as long as there is transmission anywhere, everyone is at risk. We’re at risk for variants to arise that the vaccines are totally ineffective against, and then from a pure equity standpoint, the fact that 80% plus of the vaccines have gone to wealthy nations is really unconscionable. We need to do more here in America to get vaccines around the globe.”

AUGUST 13, 2021

Ed Yong, Science Reporter for "The Atlantic", speaking with Mehdi Hasan on the MSNBC show "All In" about the current state of the pandemic:

Mehdi Hasan: "...I feel like every time we've declared victory over this virus, the virus makes a fool of all of us."

Ed Yong: "I think that's right. You know, we definitely have declared victory too early. I think a lot of people felt that the pandemic was over when the Delta variant clearly makes it so that it's not going away anytime, anytime in the near future.

And I think that was - that was always the case. A lot of experts have predicted that. The fact that the Delta variant is so transmissible really does change the nature of the game. It means that contrary to what people hoped, vaccination alone cannot stop the spread of the variant. We are going to continue needing measures like masks and other precautions.

Now, I want to be clear, for an individual, you the viewer at home, vaccination still remains the single best way to protect you from the virus. But it's the case now that communities, the U.S. as a whole, cannot rely on vaccination alone to protect us. We need to do other things too to manage the pandemic."

Mehdi Hasan: "I'm glad, Ed, you put it so clearly and bluntly. You also point out that pandemics end, but this one is not yet over and especially not globally. Just 16 percent of the world's population is fully vaccinated. Isn't that part of the problem that we in America keep wanting to move on from a global pandemic without understanding that unless it's tackled globally, we'll never be safe. The Delta variant came out of India. It's now ravaging America."

Ed Yong: "I completely agree. The country, I think, has this very strong ethos of rugged individualism. But individualism just doesn't work in the context of a pandemic. It's an infectious disease. It spreads. We all are connected within the nation and internationally. And internationally, we see that many countries have barely even vaccinated one percent of their citizens. And you know, while in America, a lot of folks are arguing about whether to wear a mask, whether to wear masks or not, around the world, a lot of countries are looking at protracted lockdowns and uncontrolled epidemics.

I think we need to have a little bit of perspective. The longer we let that happen, and the longer the U.S. government remains on its responsibility to share doses with the rest of the world, the more trouble all of us are going to be in. Like, addressing the global pandemic is a matter of incredible moral urgency for this country right now."

Mehdi Hasan: "Yeah, and what you're describing, the global scenario versus the American scenario, is both ironic and tragic. In your piece, you say, there is no zero COVID scenario at this point, that the pandemic will eventually become endemic. COVID, well, it's here to stay. But you also seem to suggest that might be a good thing. There might be a silver lining, an opportunity to change the way we live for the better. For example, you suggest maybe Western societies could adopt the practice of masking when sick, a common practice in Asian countries for many years before COVID came on the scene."

Ed Yong: "Yeah, absolutely. The threat of COVID makes it clear that many of our attitudes to respiratory infections in general have been wanting. Throughout the entire pandemic, people have compared COVID to flu often as a way of minimizing it. And even now, the one common refrain I hear is, well, we don't do this or that for the flu.

The flu is a huge problem. Respiratory diseases are a huge problem. They're are among the top 10 causes of deaths in the U.S. and worldwide. We can do better, we can now establish the kinds of surveillance systems that would tell us what actually is infecting us in the air around us. We can do better with ventilation. We can do better with testing. We can do better with our attitudes to masking and going into work or schools while safe.

We can use this as an opportunity to revamp all of that in ways that are going to make us healthier, not just for the rest of COVID, but for future pandemics to come. This is an opportunity. It is a sad state of affairs where we've got to, but we can make the most of it in ways that are going to protect future generations."

AUGUST 12, 2021

Dr. William Haseltine, Author and Former Professor at Harvard Medical School, speaking with Don Lemon of CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” about the need for the United States to become a culture of caring in this pandemic:

Dr. William Haseltine: “I think we have to look at this as we're in this for the long term. I look at this virus every day as closely as I can, and it seems to me that we may not be out of this in my lifetime. I think we will do much better than we are today. We have good vaccines. We'll get better vaccines. We have some drugs that work. We'll get better drugs that work. We need time. We need to support the people, our doctors. But we need something else that you touched on in this program, which was a culture of caring, caring for ourselves, caring for each other. And what you see with these people is they're calling out. Help yourself, help your family, help others. We don't need to get so sick to do that. We should begin to change now…”

AUGUST 11, 2021

Dr. Dara Kass, Emergency Medecine Physician at Columbia Univ. Medical Center, discussing the struggles with long COVID that children can experience with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin on “Craig Melvin Reports”:

Craig Melvin: “The New York Times points out that kids are struggling with long COVID. Lingering physical, mental, neurological symptoms are affecting children as well as adults, including many who had mild reactions to the initial Coronavirus infection. What do we know at this point about long COVID and our children?”

Dr. Dara Kass: “So we still know very little. We know that obviously anyone that’s infected with the Coronavirus can have long COVID, including children. We also know that the more children that get infected, the higher likelihood they will have the symptoms of long COVID, and more importantly, we don’t know what those effects are on developing brains and body. The effects of long COVID include things like confusion, brain fog, amnesia, cardiac abnormalities, pulmonary abnormalities, things that affect your heart and lungs, and for our children who are really eligible to be vaccinated between 12-17 and those not eligible less than 12, we are literally sending them into a lifetime of chronic medical conditions by allowing them to get infected unnecessarily by not vaccinating ourselves as adults and keeping them as safe as possible.”

AUGUST 11, 2021

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, speaking about the importance of utilizing high quality masks with Erica Hill on "CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto":

Erica Hill: “So, what’s the real story on masks? What works, what doesn’t, especially for kids in schools?”

Dr. Michael Osterholm: “Well, in fact, it is confusing for the public, and I understand why, because in this business today, you cannot nuance anything. It’s either left or right, or it’s either blue or red, it’s either yes or no, and in fact science isn’t that way. A year ago last April, we put out a statement from our center, as well as others being involved with it, that basically pointed out that this virus is an aerosol. It’s transmitted in the air, just like we see with cigarette smoke. If you’re in a room and you have a covering on your face and you can smell the smoke, then you know you’re also getting virus in there, if in fact you had an infected person in there.

We know that face cloth coverings can reduce the amount of virus that you may inhale, but to be fully protected in the way that we believe, in particular with this variant that we have today - Delta - you need to have the kind of protection that comes with an N-95 or a KN-95 for kids, which are available in children’s sizes, and just putting something over your face doesn’t protect you. That doesn’t give anybody license to take my statement and say masking doesn’t work. It’s what you have to do is use effective masking, and we’ve done a poor job of communicating that, and I think CDC is in part responsible for that. They for many months did not come to the point of realizing that aerosols were a very important part of the transmission, and as such, their messaging has portrayed that, and we need to let people know that’s not the case.”

Erica Hill: “So you’re saying, best option: N-95, a KN-95. For some kids, as you likely know, maybe that can be tough. Maybe it’s tough to wear all day. CDC, as we check out this morning, still recommending a 2-ply cloth breathable face mask - worn properly - as an option. A lot of people, myself included, use the disposable one that we order online in bulk. Those are still - if I’m hearing you correctly - those are still somewhat effective at preventing transmission. They’re just not as good as we know as those N-95 masks. So are those still a good option, for example, for kids in schools and staff in schools?”

Dr. Michael Osterholm: “Well, this is where it’s hard. No matter who - listening to this interview - some are going to want to skewer me for playing into the hands of those who are anti-masking. Those who are saying, ‘you know, be truthful and tell us really how the masks really work’, the bottom line is nuanced. I mean, for example, there is a group of industrial hygienists - people who really study how to protect ourselves from airborne chemicals or infectious agents, and they determined that based on the CDC’s data, that an infectious dose can occur in 15 minutes in a room, meaning there’s enough virus in a room for me to breathe in, just like with cigarette smoke, where I’d get infected. They did the work along with actually data from NIOSH, a part of the CDC, that showed if you wear a face cloth covering, you can get about 5 additional minutes of protection in that room. If you wear a surgical mask, you get about 10 minutes of protection. If you wear an N-95 respirator - not fitted - you get about 2.5 hours of protection. Additionally, if you wear an N-95 that’s tightly face fitted, you may get up to 25 hours of protection. Now, you tell me how you wanna parse that out? I can tell you, if you were driving an old car and it only had an old, common seat belt in it - wear it. But if you had a modern car that had a body harness, that basically had air bags, had a collision conducive body to it, that had shard glass, that had a computer program on board to reduce impact - brake you before you hit something - I’d tell you to get that one, but I’d never tell you not to wear a seatbelt…Concentrate on (vaccination for everybody first), and use the masking as a backup, and then when you do use it, get the best you can.”

AUGUST 10, 2021

Nichole Atherton, an ICU Nurse at Singing River Ocean Springs Hospital, discusses the current state of nursing in the era of COVID with Erica Hill on "CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto":

Erica Hill: “For so much of the start of the pandemic, there was an emphasis on healthcare workers, and we talked about how you all are heroes, which you still are to this day, and we talk, I think a little bit more in the beginning, about the toll that this pandemic was taking on you. I read that you’re sort of tired of being called heroes.”

Nurse Nichole Atherton: “I think that’s a fair statement. I think that - and I know I can only speak for myself and the people that I’m close with that are in this position with me - to call us heroes but not do what you can to protect yourself and to protect us - it’s just words, and words don’t save lives. Actions save lives, and to continually, people say, ‘I want my freedom and I’m going to live as I want to live,’ I understand that, and I respect that, but please know that you are exposing all of our staff to this deadly virus as well. Those people that don’t believe it or choose not to get vaccinated - when they can’t breathe, they still show up at the hospital, and we still care for them and treat them with absolute respect and do not want them to feel judged for the decisions that they’ve made around their health, but I do want people to understand that they’re jeopardizing our lives as well, and we have children to go home to.

There is a whole generation of children right now that will grow up, hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States of America, that will grow up without grandparents because of the first wave, and now we’re seeing parents. There are going to be children - children in my own community - that are orphans, and it could have been prevented.”

AUGUST 09, 2021

4 time Grammy Award winner Jason Isbell speaking with Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC’s “Stephanie Ruhle Reports” about politicians working to make people think that their freedom is being encroached upon with COVID mandates like masking and vaccine requirements:

Jason Isbell: “I’m all for freedom, but I think, if you’re dead, you don’t have any freedoms at all, so it’s probably important to stay alive before you start questioning your liberty. It’s life, and then it’s liberty, and then it’s the pursuit of happiness, and those are in order of priority.”