Physician Experts Brief Press on Delta Variant Concerns

Aug. 4, 2021
Infectious disease experts shared their perspectives on some of the current challenges faced by the U.S. healthcare system, in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant, in an Infectious Diseases Society of America press briefing

On the morning of August 3, 2021, the Arlington, Va.-based Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) conducted a media briefing featuring experts Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., vice provost for global initiatives, University of Pennsylvania, and Ricardo Franco, M.D., a practicing infectious diseases specialist and an IDSA member. Barbara D. Alexander, M.D., president, IDSA, moderated.

Dr. Franco began by saying that “Since the emergence of the Delta variant in the U.S., a lot of attention has been made to areas of greater virus transmission in Alabama. In our 1,100-bed university hospital [The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)] we have seen an increase in hospitalizations every week since the end of June, with now over 60 active cases in our COVID-19 units from as low as three active cases observed in mid-June. About 89 percent of our COVID-19 samples sequenced at the UAB lab are the Delta variant. And unvaccinated people account for 97 percent of COVID hospitalizations at UAB. Our epidemiologists have concerning modeling estimates for Alabama where we could see, in worst case scenarios, twice as many infections compared to the January wave here in our state. Alabama currently has a test positivity rate around 22 percent. And those alarming figures are seen here and in other areas as well.”

Dr. Emanuel followed, “Let me begin with a word of humility for all of us. We are roughly 19 months into this pandemic and there is a lot we do not know. And a lot about this virus that remains opaque to us.”

Emanuel then went on to touch on vaccinations, “We are at roughly 50 percent of the population vaccinated, 70 percent of adults vaccinated, many more depending on where you are at of people over 65 vaccinated, in some areas 90-95 percent over 65 vaccinated, but not everywhere.”

He added, “It is very hard not to find a vaccine if you want it.”

Emanuel also commented on education regarding the vaccine, saying that “There has also been a major educational initiative. Obviously, this battling a major disinformation initiative being circulated out there. I don’t think this is misinformation, I think it is clear it is disinformation, that false facts are being spread about the vaccine.”

He then added, “170 million Americans have been vaccinated. Around the world, about 3 billion doses of vaccines have been given. It is incredibly safe. We have not seen major, major problems. It is incredibly effective.”

In response to one of the last questions from the press about mandating vaccines for healthcare workers, Emanuel responded with, “We developed a joint statement of medical professional societies and other organizations, we released it last Monday. At that point we had just shy of 60 organizations, we now have just short of 90 organizations. These represent workers from all facets of healthcare—doctors nurses, physicians assistants, pharmacists, and long-term care workers. I think there is a growing group.”

He continued, “I have also begun to talk to unions. And I would not characterize it that the unions are opposed.”

He then commented on losing workers due to mandating the vaccine, “I think we the ‘we are going to lose workers worry’ is a lot more theoretical than actual. If we look at healthcare systems that have actually mandated this, they’ve retained over 99 percent of their workforce. Their workforce does go along when the employer requires it. When it becomes more general population among employers, and you see a big, big tidal wave of this last week, I think it becomes the norm. To go into work requires a vaccine and that will become standard practice and move into the background.”

Emanuel concluded, “I think you will see a lot of pressure to make this happen nationwide.”