SVMHS Chief Medical Officer On The Delta Variant
Case rates of COVID-19 are rising in the Monterey Bay Area. The culprit? Stagnant vaccination rates, and the highly infectious Delta variant. As we enter a new and uncertain chapter of the pandemic, we reached out to Dr. Allen Radner for our fifth conversation since the pandemic began.
Dr. Radner is the chief medical officer at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, and an infectious disease specialist. We wanted to know his thoughts on the Delta variant and what it means for the Monterey Bay area.
Dr. Allen Radner (AR): We're definitely experiencing a surge right now. We're seeing considerably more patients who are testing positive. More patients are in emergency room and more patients being hospitalized. The one thing that is very clear is that the Delta variant is extremely infectious. With these variants now being so contagious, most of us believe that you've got two choices now — you can either get vaccinated or you can get COVID. Very few pople are going to be able to dodge one or the other at this point in time.
Jerimiah Oetting (JO): Given all that, what's the capacity at Salinas Valley Memorial, and how concerned are you about reaching capacity?
AR: The large percentage of the people in Monterey County who were at risk of becoming critically ill were immunosuppressed or older individuals, and a majority of them have been vaccinated. We think there's going to be a lot of people infected. We don't think we're going to overrun the hospitals. We hope we won't. But again, there's a lot of issues there. In December and January, there wasn't any way to prevent the horrors that we were seeing at the hospital. It's frustrating now because we think a lot of these are preventable with vaccination.
JO: Right. There's a lot of frustration right now directed towards unvaccinated people for prolonging the pandemic. And I wonder what your thoughts are on the characterization that this is now a "pandemic of the unvaccinated."
AR: Right. People who are legitimately scared. I think we can try to convince people who are scared as best we can with more and more evidence. I mean...every scientist that I know, every medical society, infectious disease society, almost all the doctors in the United States are getting vaccinated. And there's literally been a couple billion doses of this vaccine has been administered throughout the world now. And it's incredibly unusual to see complications from the vaccine so we can try to educate those people.
JO: Do you have any advice for people who might have an unvaccinated friend or family member who is vaccine hesitant?
AR: I would really encourage them to talk to their doctor. I would be shocked if any doctor in Monterey County is not going to strongly encourage them to get vaccinated. The risk of having a serious reaction to the vaccine is like two in a million. Your choices, you can get vaccinated, which has almost no risk. Or, you can get sick, which has a significant risk. And if you're vaccinated and get sick, right now nationally, the people who get COVID that have been vaccinated, it's extremely unusual for you to be hospitalized. It's something like 97, 98 percent of the people have been hospitalized in the United States right now are unvaccinated.
You may become an asymptomatic shedder or have a very mild illness, but I would greatly prefer to have that then the risks of developing severe respiratory illness, requiring a hospitalization, potentially dying and having a much higher likelihood of developing long-haulers, you know, long-term manifestations.
JO: There was a recent recommendation from all of the health officers in the Monterey Bay area to start wearing masks in public spaces, even if people are vaccinated. And then the CDC made a similar recommendation. I wonder who you think in this area should be wearing masks. Should all of us be wearing masks? And in what situations is it safe to go without one?
AR: I think there is convincing evidence that masks help. They're not perfect, they're not as good as vaccines, but they definitely help. Everyone gets frustrated that recommendations change. I mean, the virus is changing literally, the Delta variant isbehaving different than earlier variants. Science is changing, we're understanding it better, we're seeing surges — or anticipated surges. The CDC is changing the recommendations. So that's really difficult and frustrating for everyone. But we know a lot of people aren't vaccinated, and many of those people aren't wearing masks. For all of us, the safest thing to do is to — when we're indoors — is to wear a mask. But, these are really difficult individual and community and county and societal questions.
JO: So I wonder is there anything you feel optimistic about, or hopeful about?
AR: We're hopeful that our hospital surges, the number of people critically ill, and the people that are hospitalized isn't going to be what we saw with the previous surges. And we're hopeful that we can get this under control soon. So, there's defintiely good news. You know, vaccinate vaccinate vaccinate...that's our message right now.