Dr. Russo: Still many unknowns when it comes to COVID-19

Coronavirus

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s been a year since the Covid-19 pandemic forced a seismic shift in the way Western New Yorkers and the rest of the world went about their lives.

We learned about masks, social distancing, and various public health measures.  

These days the vaccine program is moving along. The numbers are on the decline.

All good signs that we’re moving closer to better days.

“All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1. That’s much earlier than expected,” said President Joe Biden during an address last week.  

Getting the vaccines produced and out for distribution was no small feat.

“It’s extraordinary that we got vaccines that were so safe and efficacious really within nine months,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease expert.    

But Dr. Russo thinks it’ll be a while before we know how long protection lasts, whether it’s from natural immunity or from the vaccines.  

“I think we have a sense that immunity from natural infection and obviously it’s variable from person-to-person and those that are asymptomatic or mildly ill probably don’t have as good immune response if you were more critically ill,” he said. “We think that lasts probably at least six to eight months and probably longer. That level of protection or immunity is not as good as our vaccines.”

“But our vaccines are the newest kids on the block, right? And so, we really only have data for them at this point, three or four months out. I’m pretty comfortable that those vaccines are going to last longer than that. But exactly how long remains an unknown that we’re obviously tracking very closely,” Russo said.

Russo, a researcher with the Jacobs School of Medicine at the University at Buffalo, says there’s another unknown

What if the virus figures out a way around the vaccine protection? Is there an easy fix?

“We hope this new coronavirus will not mutate to our vaccine protective response. But if it does, we know how to handle it. We can handle it quickly. And we can produce these vaccines in rapid fashion. And so, it won’t be the same learning curve and same time frame. It’s going to be remarkably compressed,” he explained

It’s expected that by summer cases of Covid-19 will drop dramatically — like last year. Even so, Dr. Russo says there will still be a significant portion of the population still unvaccinated. 

“We’d like to get at least 75 or 80 percent of the people vaccinated to get that high level of protection that really you can only get with the vaccine. Natural immunity really gives you some protection but not that super high level of protection,” Russo said.

And unless we get there, Russo thinks there’s a chance we won’t put the virus to bed permanently and close the book for good.     

“We are going to run the risk that getting back to normal may be short-lived and limited to the summer months, and this virus could rear its ugly head again in the fall and winter months.”

Another unknown involves the possible long-term consequences of the virus, which could involve more than respiratory tract issues.

Dr. Russo believes the best strategy while waiting to get the vaccine is to avoid getting infected in the first place. 

You can see our entire sit down with Dr. Russo below:

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