Vaccine ‘promising’ as virus spreads across Upper Midwest

If we're all responsible, COVID-19 numbers will go down, says Dr. Suttle

Dr. Susan Hoover and Dr. Allison Suttle join Sanford Health News for a Facebook Live

While North Dakota and South Dakota make national news for record numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Sanford Health leaders want communities to think about how they can prevent this virus from spreading.

Chief medical officer Allison Suttle, M.D., and Susan Hoover, M.D., Ph.D., a physician leader specializing in infectious disease, joined Sanford Health News for a Facebook Live Q&A on Nov. 9.

Watch: Facebook Live Q&A, Nov. 9

Urging you to ‘Mask Up’

Earlier this fall, Sanford Health joined Avera Health and Monument Health in the #MaskUpSoDak campaign challenging everyone to wear a mask. It’s a collaboration that extends beyond that announcement back to the first cases of the novel coronavirus in our community.

“When there’s a public health emergency, we’re all on the same team,” Dr. Allison Suttle said. “This is good, healthy competition between the health systems and there’s nothing wrong with that. When we’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s a community health crisis, we all have to work together.”

Positive COVID-19 cases are reaching new daily records and, Dr. Suttle said, people are not following common sense practices:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Staying at least 6 feet apart
  • Washing your hands
  • Staying home when you’re sick

Read: COVID-19 FAQs: Do I need to wear a face mask?

“If people did all of those things and we all did them for the next two to three weeks, our cases would dramatically go down in the state of South Dakota,” she said. “It’s all of our responsibilities to do this, but we all have to then agree to do it.”

Hopeful following vaccine early studies

Pfizer announced Monday the vaccine has the potential to be 90% effective.

“This is very exciting,” Dr. Hoover said as she reminds the public it’s still early and scientists need more information. “We’re greatly looking forward to learning more about it … and if it’s true, we might have another tool for preventing additional cases of COVID-19 in our community and everywhere around the world.”

The process to develop a COVID-19 vaccine was accelerated and shatters records by any other comparison, Dr. Hoover said.

“A lot of resources have gone into it, a lot of science has gone into it and a lot of will — both political will and a lot of money — because this is recognized as something that’s really a global emergency.”

Mass distribution is being set up by the federal government together with the CDC as they work individually with each state. Sanford Health is working alongside other health systems and state health departments on this effort.

“Things to consider include the priority populations, ‘how many freezers do we need to buy? Where would we administer the vaccine? Who would do it? How do we ensure it’s being given to the people who meet the criteria for getting the vaccine?'” Dr. Hoover said. “There is definitely a multidisciplinary group has been working on that: everyone from pharmacists to administrators, to supply chain experts to doctors, nurses working on that effort now for months in anticipation that at some point a vaccine would become available, though we don’t know exactly when, where, and how.”

According to Dr. Suttle, Sanford has freezers and is prepared.

“Even before it gets approved by the FDA, we’ll likely have it in stock,” Dr. Suttle said. “Once it gets the needed approval, then we’re ready to release it to only specific individuals during that first run. When we start thinking about mass distribution, then we’ve got our plan from H1N1, we’ll dust that off and get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can.”

We can be optimistic about the future but, Dr. Suttle said, we need to be responsible today.

Safety and the holidays

The idea of multiple generations in one home, one room, doesn’t sit well with medical leaders who know and see the impacts of this virus every day.

“Unfortunately this is just not the year — not the year to do that for Thanksgiving or for Christmas,” Dr. Suttle said.

“If a bunch of people do more of that activity over Thanksgiving, typically in about two weeks, we’ll see another big increase in cases … and then, about three weeks after that, we’ll see even more hospitalizations,” she explains.

She reminds everyone to consider the safety of older, high-risk loved ones before interacting over the holidays and plan to keep gatherings, if any, to a very small number of people.

“The more people you get together, the more likely that one of those people will be asymptomatic and more people that could get infected,” she said. “What we’re considering is a smaller number of people together and when we are together, we try to stay 6 feet apart and consider just wearing masks indoors. Really, if I’m not eating or drinking or actively doing something, wearing a mask indoors and socializing does help.”

Read: At risk for COVID-19? Rely on your support system now

She credits the Sanford Health data and analytics team for its continuous study of current numbers, future spread and trends based on our current behavior.

“If we anticipate and look at those kinds of potentials, we do see significant increases in hospitalizations,” she said. “We’ll make the room. We’ll find a way to take care of everybody. But again, that comes at a price. We’ve got a certain number of nurses that are out sick. We’ve got a certain number of our teachers who are now out sick. It starts affecting all us when that spread really increases and gets to those exponential levels.

“Freedom isn’t free. The freedom to go out is fine, but wear your mask and just be smarter about it. And if we’re all responsible, the numbers will go down.”

Looking to 2021

Considering the recently announced early results of the COVID-19 vaccine trials, Dr. Suttle predicts what next summer will be like.

The typical flu shot is only about 30% effective every year. A lot of people get flu shots, which helps with herd immunity, she said.

“If this vaccine is truly 90% effective, then that becomes kind of like our measles vaccine, which is very effective. It hasn’t totally eliminated the measles because you see little outbreaks every now and then. So long-term, I don’t know if that that would be the summer, but long-term, I would say once we get everyone vaccinated, we know more about how long that vaccine lasts.”

She said not everyone gets vaccinated, so that’s one big issue that could lead to prolonging this pandemic.

“Wearing masks in June might still be a possibility, as will social distancing,” Dr. Suttle explains. “It’ll be interesting to think about summer months and getting together in large crowds. It won’t be the flip of a switch and getting back to life before COVID. I think there’ll just be a gradual transition to more normalcy, but we’ll be living with COVID in a more normal way.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Flu, Immunizations, News

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