White House advisor: “Vaccines don’t save lives, it’s vaccinations that do”

La. Department of Health doctor says some variants are causing “atypical” symptoms
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 7:23 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As demand wanes for COVID-19 vaccinations, the White House and the Louisiana Department of Health raise concerns about the so-called “Delta” variants and urge more people to get vaccinated, including young adults who are not getting the shots at the same rate as older adults.

FOX 8 spoke one-on-one with Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair of the White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. President Joe Biden has set a goal of having at least 70 percent of U.S. adults get one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by July 4th.

“We’re watching so closely the Delta variant, we know that it, you know, can be more contagious, more transmissible,” said Dr. Nunez-Smith.

She said the “Delta” variant is already dominating the landscape in Britain.

“We see the U.K. now having to deal with a surge because of Delta. Good news: the vaccines that we have in the United States work, that’s what the evidence shows against Delta. But what it says is the time is now, we cannot wait; we have to get everybody vaccinated as soon as possible, that’s how we’re going to stay ahead of this variant and frankly any others,” Nunez-Smith stated.

The ‘Delta” variant was first identified in India, and it has proved to be extremely deadly in that country and is confirmed in Louisiana and other parts of the U.S.

“One of the recent CDC reports showed that it’s about six percent, but we have to keep in mind that we’re not sequencing sort of every case and so we know it’s here and what we know about its characteristics shows that it’s opportunistic just like all these various strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are, so we should not sort of think of that as a low number,” said Nunez-Smith. “What it says is that variant is here and it’s going to move through our communities and the people in our communities who are vaccinated are going to do better.”

Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee, Region 1 Medical Director for the Louisiana Department of Health has seen firsthand the decrease in people seeking vaccinations at community events.

“I agree that the numbers have waned. I think one of the issues is that for those who have previously been infected with COVID they believe they have natural immunity,” Hébert-Magee said. “However, with these variants, we recognize that there are anecdotal reports of individuals who are getting reinfected with COVID and actually having more significant symptoms including those that are young.”

Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee, region 1 medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health,...
Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee, region 1 medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health, discusses the urgency of getting more people vaccinated as the "Delta" variants circulate in the U.S.(Source: WVUE)

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s May Vaccine Monitor survey, 34% of the adults in the wait-and-see category said they plan to wait more than a year to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Hébert-Magee advises against that. She said some of the variants or mutations of the novel coronavirus are causing different symptoms.

“Well, I think that’s an unwise decision because we know the variants that we currently have circulating, some of them are very aggressive, some of them are highly transmissible and some have atypical symptoms, so instead of the dry cough and fever and tiredness that people were initially presenting with, now they are presenting with a runny nose and a headache and a sore throat,” said Hébert-Magee.

She and Dr. Nunez-Smith agree some people still have questions about the vaccines and their safety.

“Being in the field is that there are a lot of questions on-site, people are still wanting to know more about the vaccine,” Hébert-Magee said.

“There’s so much mis-and-disinformation that is out there and so we have a national public education campaign that really is about making sure people have accurate, factual information; that the vaccines that we have are effective and have really impressive safety profiles, that’s key,” said Nunez-Smith.

Other KFF research data shows 32% of unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if one of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use received full FDA approval.

“I’m hoping that since Pfizer has put in its application for full FDA approval that people will feel more confident about the vaccines,” said Hébert-Magee.

Nunez-Smith says the White House and local health care professionals are removing all hindrances to people getting vaccinated including offering many free services and incentives.

“Just everything, we need all hands on deck to get people from maybe to yes,” she said. “Vaccines don’t save lives, it’s vaccinations that do and we have to make sure that people are getting connected with vaccination.”

Nunez-Smith said the White House is not giving up on its goal of having an overwhelming majority of adults have at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by July 4.

“Having everybody 18 and over having at least one shot by July 4th, we know the urgency is there in part because of the variants. That is how we keep ourselves safe from the Delta variant, quite frankly all of the variants. We know in many communities that goal has been hit and for people over 40 in this country the goal has been hit but we know that there is more work to do to connect with younger people,” she said.

Louisiana says it is using every available tool to connect with the unvaccinated.

“We have the Bring Back Louisiana Campaign, which is utilizing these incentives along with phone banking, along with text blasts and also door-to-door knocking,” said Hébert-Magee.

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