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‘It’s beyond time’ to get vaccinated as Delta variant cases increase, expert says

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 12:25 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An infectious disease expert said Tuesday an increase in COVID-19 cases is causing a “safety net” in communities nationwide to fall apart.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal is Louisiana State University’s chief medical officer and the director of infection prevention at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

“What I mean by that is that ambulances take longer to get to sick patients, those are COVID and non-COVID. These are kids playing on the playground who may get hurt today. These are people riding in their car when they get into a traffic accident,” she said. “But every bit of care takes longer.”

She said people should immediately do a few things to protect themselves as the number of cases rise.

“When you see cases going up that high, you start to limit what you do, you start to put on your mask and be more careful because we know that there’s a lot of COVID out there,” she said. “Also, if you’ve chosen not to get the vaccine yet, you start to speak to your healthcare provider.”

She said those who have not yet been vaccinated should do so now.

“It’s time. It’s beyond time,” she said. “But it’s never too late to start to protect yourself because the vaccine does start to take effect within 10 to 14 days of receipt of it.”

O’Neal said it is very difficult to predict when things will feel “normal” again.

“What we’ve seen is that this pandemic affects us in waves and that there are times where we feel safer, and then there are times when this wave gets to be too much we have to put back on our tools like our masks and our distancing to help us, but we do have something that we never had before and that’s vaccination,” O’Neal said. “It’s been very apparent and this surge that what overwhelms the community is having too many people who have not chosen to be vaccinated yet and that vaccination makes a huge difference in how this community feels normal, and so I hope that by next spring, that we do see normalcy that comes and sustains itself but I think the only way we’ll get there is through vaccination.”

Delta variant symptoms may initially go unnoticed

O’Neal said she has noticed early symptoms of Delta variant infection may be easy to miss.

“I’ve noticed a lot more patients in our community who started off with sinus symptoms, which is super tricky because in the South, many of us have sinus symptoms every day,” she said. “So we’ve noticed people ignore those for a day or so and then they start to have fever and cough and very bad muscle aches and realize that this is not your average ‘I’ve cut the grass and so I have a runny nose.’”

She urged people to be on the lookout and get tested if you have new sinus symptoms because that could be the first sign of the Delta variant.

Even more concerning is the speed that the Delta variant progresses.

“People used to have a cold, have a little bit of a flu-like illness, stay home for a week or so and then show up to the hospital,” she said. “And now it is, ‘I’m sick one day and I’m in the hospital within 72 hours and on a breathing machine that quickly.’ And that speaks to how infectious the Delta variant is and how quickly it multiplies within our body.”

Vaccine works, expert insists, despite ‘breakthrough cases’

O’Neal said breakthrough cases, which are cases that occur in people after they have become fully vaccinated, are not a sign that the COVID vaccine does not work.

“I don’t know how often you look at college campuses but we do see breakthrough cases of measles, mumps,” she said.

She said when people who did not take the MMR vaccine come into a “heavily-vaccinated MMR population,” the unvaccinated put those who are vaccinated at risk.

“So I think we should have anticipated breakthrough cases,” she said. “I think that we know that scientifically, you’re never going to say zero, but the more people who are vaccinated, the more you offer herd immunity and that means that you’ll see very few of those breakthrough cases occur.”

O’Neal said the three available vaccines, the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are all “very well studied vaccines” and insisted all three are “very, very safe” and “very, very effecive” and preventing serious infection and disease from COVID-19.

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