Wayne State’s Campus Health Committee provided updated COVID-19 developments and their impact at a biweekly virtual campus health town hall Thursday.
COVID-19 cases and deaths are increasing nationwide, The New York Times reported.
Marcus Zervos, School of Medicine assistant dean of Global Affairs, said rapidly spreading COVID-19 variants are causing the increase. This includes breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated individuals.
“The Delta variant is eight times more contagious than earlier strains, and the vaccines remain effective, but there is a little bit less effectiveness than with some of the other strains,” Zervos said. “But it’s important to remember that the prevention of hospitalization and death is very high.”
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the authorization of booster shots for certain immunocompromised individuals, The Associated Press reported. The shots offer increased protection amidst the Delta variant surge.
Zervos also said the use of vaccine booster shots would probably initially be limited to immunocompromised individuals and those above 60-65 years old.
“I anticipate that that’ll be coming soon, but for most people boosters are not going to be recommended, at least in the near future, ” Zervos said.
School of Medicine Infectious Diseases Professor Teena Chopra said she recommended that masks be worn around individuals ages 11 and younger. This will help protect the children, who aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated.
“As far as more data on children, we are still looking at that data. FDA and CDC are looking at infections in children in more detail to see if they are more vulnerable to the Delta variant, but the fact that the Delta variant is eight times more contagious — that speaks volumes to the infectivity and to the illness rates in children,” Chopra said.
Zervos said recovering from COVID-19 is not a sufficient substitute for getting a vaccine due to the risk of catching the virus again.
“Anywhere from even 60-90 days out, we have seen, you know, many people that have had reinfections, and what the vaccine does is it boosts the immunity and gives longer term immunity for reinfection,” Zervos said.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, previously-infected individuals should get vaccinated.
Zervos said the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and it's development was not rushed.
“We’d been looking at MRNA vaccines and looking at them for other infections and other conditions for the last 一 at least the last 10 years very aggressively, and there was nothing compromised in the research studies,” Zervos said.
COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.
“FDA gets more data and reviews more safety and efficacy data on the vaccines for a prolonged period of time, which is up to six months,” Chopra said. “For EUA, they usually look at two to three months of data, and for full approval, they look at more than six months of data.”
Full approval for the Pfizer vaccine may be granted as soon as this month, the NYT reported.
The availability of effective vaccines is a significant improvement from last year, Zervos said. However, the increase of COVID-19 cases still requires following public health guidelines.
“I don’t think we’re going to be moving into a situation of a total shutdown like we did before because things are different now in some ways with immunization, but I think there is a very pressing need to continue with… what we can do to improve on immunization, continue with masking until we get things under better control,” Zervos said.
Chopra said she agreed with Zervos. Further,increased vaccination rates would eliminate the need for reinstating major public health restrictions.
“(T)here’s always going to be a looming threat of the virus mutating and a new variant emerging until we have a high percentage of our population vaccinated,” Chopra said. “And when I say high percentage, I mean more than… 90-95% because the herd immunity standards we talked about at 70-80% are not valid anymore with the Delta variant.”
College of Nursing Dean Laurie Lauzon Clabo said WSU’s indoor mask mandate will be reexamined on Sept. 15. The committee will then use data on campus vaccination rates to determine the mandate's future.
A decision depends on the percentage of vaccinated individuals and COVID-19 trends in Detroit and Michigan, Clabo said.
“Our hope is to… move away from COVID and, you know, get past it, but for now we need to continue to do what we can to defeat the virus through vaccination and to keep ourselves healthy with these other measures,” Zervos said. “And our goal is to bring people back to school, bring people to the university, and to do it in a safe manner.”
Clabo said international students can contact email@example.com for personalized assistance pertaining to WSU's campus wide vaccine mandate.
President M. Roy Wilson will host a virtual President Health Town Hall at 3 p.m. on Aug. 24.
Kate Vaughn is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo by Kate Vaugn.