Ochsner Doc: Immunizations Could Lead to ‘Normal Life’ This Fall

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Dr. Kathy Baumgarten, Ochsner Health’s medical director of infection control and prevention, gets her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14. (Photo courtesy of Ochsner).

NEW ORLEANS – Dr. Kathy Baumgarten, featured on this week’s Biz Talks podcast, said a successful immunization program is the best way for the community to get back to normal life with the least amount of suffering.

To that end, Ochsner reported on Jan. 11 that it has now administered 57,035 vaccine doses to employees, healthcare providers and eligible community members statewide and has more than 100,000 appointments scheduled.

“For people not to get sick in the future, we need to reach herd immunity,” said Baumgarten. “That means that enough people are immune to the disease that it’s not being readily transmitted among our population. That’s the case with other infectious diseases, such as measles and smallpox.”

Baumgarten said experts originally thought 60% of the population would have to be immune to stop the spread but they’ve since bumped those percentages higher – to 70% or more.

“So we need to get there and if we don’t get there through vaccination, it means more people are going to die, more people are going to end up in the hospital, more people are going to end up with COVID,” she said.

Baumgarten said it’s difficult to predict how long it will take to get the job done. The ambitious goal in Louisiana is to vaccinate 25,000 people per day, which would mean all 4.6 million residents would have been vaccinated by mid-July – but that’s a long shot. By the end of the week, Louisiana expects to have received just under 300,000 total doses from the federal government. A third of those are bound for long-term care facilities.

“I think meeting our goal depends on the success of us being able to give the vaccine, to distribute it and then, most importantly, for people to take it,” said Baumgarten. “Long story short, our institution would love to get most people vaccinated by mid summer or early fall and hope to get to something that we consider normal living and breathe a sigh of relief that people are protected.”

In the meantime, scientists and doctors don’t know yet if someone who’s had the vaccine can still spread the disease. So that’s why precautions like masks and hand washing will remain important. 

“And then there’s the virus itself,” said Baumgarten. “Is it going to mutate? We’re already hearing about different strains in the U.K. and South Africa. It looks like the vaccine will still work for those viruses but those things continue to play a role.”

So Ochsner and other health providers will continue a balancing act.

“Our systems are at their max right now,” said Baumgarten. “We want to be able to take care of people who have cancer, heart attacks and high cholesterol – and we are doing that while also taking care of people that have serious COVID-19. … Our healthcare workers are persevering but it’s been a hard year. It’s hard to see patients and loved ones dying when you feel like this could have been prevented.”

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Categories: COVID-19, Healthcare, Today’s Business News