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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Coronavirus

Coronavirus webinar hosted by College of Medicine


The holiday season can’t be blamed for the spread of COVID-19 in Houston. Many open businesses are not doing their part to decrease the spread of the virus.

UH College of Medicine hosted a coronavirus webinar to discuss new developments with the vaccine and new variants. | Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The College of Medicine set up a webinar to discuss the coronavirus vaccines last Thursday. The virtual meeting consisted of a presentation and a short Q&A session to address any questions. 

Recently, the University has implemented a COVID-19 testing center on campus for rapid testing, free of charge. With vaccines becoming more widespread, the University is taking steps to provide enough information to encourage people to take the vaccine.

Before the webinar began, audience members met with Dr. Stephen Spann, dean of the College of Medicine. Along with introducing himself, Dr. Spann also introduced his six colleagues in charge of the webinar: Dr. Frene LaCour-Chestnut, Dr. Bhavna Lall, Dr. Kimberly Pilkinton, Dr. LeChauncy Woodard and Dr. Bettina Beech. 

Spann explained that his colleagues were to educate the public of the coronavirus and its vaccines as they consider taking it.

“Of course there’s a lot of interest in our community, a lot of questions about this vaccine, and we wanted to share with you knowledge about the vaccine,” he said. “So that as you think about your own decision about taking the vaccine, you will be well informed.” 

Responsible for informing audience members about the different COVID-19 vaccines available was Lall, an internal medicine physician.

In addition to comparing and contrasting the vaccines distributed by Moderna and Pfizer, Lall went into the details of the side effects and how it works. However, despite their effectiveness, people should continue using masks and social distancing after getting vaccinated.

“Moderna and Pfizer show effectiveness at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, but we do not know exactly how much asymptomatic transmission will continue after people are vaccinated – we need more data.” Lall said. “So after you get vaccinated, you must wear a mask and social distance because we do not know how much we can spread the infection without having symptoms.”

Despite this, Lall further explains how increased vaccination rates (approximately 70-80 percent) can lead to herd immunity in the U.S. Plus, with new variants of the infection entering the U.S., the need to have people vaccinated is at an all-time high. 

While a potential booster vaccine to combat these variants are in the talking stages, Lall explained that more people vaccinated slows the rapid pace at which the virus mutates.

“Moderna, Pfizer and other companies are discussing variants and potential booster vaccines to target these variants. The more it spreads, the newer variants will form,” she said. “So there’s an urgency to vaccinate populations in need, populations affected and medically vulnerable populations – especially minority populations getting hit the hardest.”

Although the focus was about the vaccine, physicians following Lall diverged into different topics, still relaying it back to the main focus.

LaCour-Chestnut explained the disease’s epidemiology, discussing rising cases at the national, state and local levels. Using data from the Texas Medical Center, she showed the trajectory of rising cases and explains how the virus can also affect children.

Pilkinton discussed the details of the vaccine for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Describing them as a special population at risk, Pilkinton recommended pregnant and breastfeeding women to take the vaccine for prevention. She also shared other ways of reducing the risk of exposure and infection, with or without taking the vaccine.

Reed broke down the phases of the vaccine roll out and its availability. While there is a limited supply, Reed provided resources for people wanting to get the vaccine. Some of the resources mentioned are the Texas COVID-19 Vaccine Availability MapHarris County Public Health, and the City of Houston.

Woodard talked about vaccine hesitancy and ways to encourage those in our community to take it – especially communities disproportionately affected. With misinformation increasing hesitancy, Woodard took the time to reassure people the vaccine is safe and shared accurate information, debunking its corresponding myths and instilling confidence in the vaccine.

Ending the presentation was Beech, who emphasizes the continuation of mask-wearing, hand washing, and social distancing in her topic of mitigation strategies. 

With the help of Twitter meme references to engage viewers, Beech explored ways people can keep safe through face masks, hand washing, social distancing, contact tracing and pre-health checks. While most people are used to the idea of wearing one mask, Beech explained the increased need to wear two.

“Given the variants Dr. Lall talked about earlier, it is critically important that we double mask now,” she said. “Several of the variants are more contagious than the original strain of the virus.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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