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610 WTVN: COVID-19 Reinfection, the Vaccine, Herd Immunity and the Flu

You may have seen in the news recently that the first cases have been documented of patients who had previously contracted COVID-19 receiving another positive test.   Joseph Gastaldo, MD, OhioHealth system medical director of infectious diseases, recently spoke with 610 WTVN host Joel Riley about these cases, as well as other hot topics related COVID-19.

"This is not a time for panic," said Dr. Gastaldo.  "We need more information.  This is not unexpected and it's not a game changer.  There are many unanswered questions about reinfection.  It's not unexpected, based on what we know about other types of coronoviruses and how people can get reinfected with them.  We need more information related to COVID-19, is this the majority or the exception?"

In regards to what a potential vaccine for COVID-19 looks like, Dr. Gastaldo said it's still a work in progress.

"The immune system is very complicated.  It's more than just an antibody response," said Dr. Gastaldo.  "My hunch is that when we have a vaccine it is something you'll need to get on a regular basis - maybe like an annual flu vaccine or possibly a combined flu and COVID vaccine.  We just don't know.  The vaccine candidates that are being looked at are all a little bit different.  When they come out on the market, we'll still have to figure out how long the immunity will last."

However, when a vaccine does come out, it's not guaranteed that people will get it.  Riley asked Dr. Gastaldo what percentage of people will need the vaccine before it's truly effective on a national basis?

"We need to get to herd immunity, which is roughly 60-65 percent.  Herd immunity basically means 60-65 percent of us have immunity, either from the infection or the vaccination," said Dr. Gastaldo.  "The wild card with the vaccination, just like the influenza vaccination, is that not everyone is going to take it.  Every year, people get the flu vaccine but at best about half the people that get it develop an immune response.  And that's the hurdle for the COVID-19 vaccine.  So if you have 40 percent of the people who choose not to get the vaccine, and then a vaccine efficacy is 50 percent at best, it's going to be a challenge for us to reach that herd immunity."

Speaking of the flu vaccine, will people be more likely to get it this season, so they reduce the risk of getting the flu, in addition to worrying about COVID-19?

"That's what I hope for," said Dr. Gastaldo.  "I know the flu manufacturers made more of the flu vaccine this year.  It's very important for us to get flu off of the table because the symptoms between the flu and COVID are so similar.  Otherwise, we do have the potential, if it's a bad flu season, to have the healthcare systems stressed. My hunch is based on us wearing masks and social distancing, that the flu activity will be low, but we still need people to get the flu vaccine."

Dr. Gastaldo appears on 610 WTVN with Joel Riley every Monday morning at 6:08 a.m.  Click the 610 WTVN logo below to listen to this week's interview in full.