Q&A With Dr. John Whyte (Dec. 11, 2020)

Published On Dec 11, 2020

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Hi, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. This has been a busy week. A lot of information about the vaccine.

But let's keep in mind, the vaccine isn't going to change anything for the next few months. We're still going to have to wear masks, still socially and physically distance, avoid large crowds, wash your hands. It's still the status quo.

It's encouraging news, and there's other vaccines that are coming to the FDA for authorization. All encouraging news. At the same time, we still have a lot of virus in the community. Roughly 200,000 new cases a day, more than 3,000 deaths a day.

We need to make progress. And sometimes, there's confusion about what people need to do, what they're reading, what they can believe, so every week, I answer some of your questions. So let's get right at it with viewer mail.

So the first question is from Angie, and Angie asks on Instagram, "Why does COVID affect people differently?" Angie, this is the whole concept of risk. You and I are different, based on a number of factors. We do know that men do not do as well as women when they get COVID, but we also know that if you're immunocompromised, your immune system's not going to be able to fight the infection as well. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, that can actually make your immune system weaker.

We know that children do better than adults, and that might be because their respiratory tract is still developing. So they are able to expel virus with as much force as you or I might if we're singing or shouting or talking very closely. So that's why we've been talking about risk factors, recognizing that for everyone, you have to weigh that risk versus benefit in terms of your potential exposure to COVID. So we are different, and that can be good. But at the same time, keep in mind what those risk factors are that CDC talks about that puts you at greater risk.

The next question is from Vickey, and she writes on Facebook, "I was severely sick in March, really bad cough and fever, couldn't walk without shortness of breath or talk without one or two words. At the time, they couldn't test because of no known contact. I was negative for flu and strep. I was diagnosed with a contagious viral illness. Is it too late for the antibody test?"

The quick answer, Vickey, is it depends. And the reason why I say that is there are different types of antibodies, different types of tests, and timing matters. So typically, when you develop an infection, even for COVID, you're going to develop an antibody called IGM usually within the first week, and then IGG about three weeks later.

That's why we don't use antibody test to diagnose COVID. It's actually used to see if you've had COVID. We don't know how long antibody lasts. We think it's probably several months, at least, maybe even a couple of years.

So the answer is if you get the test and it tests positive, then you do know you were previously infected. But if it tests negative, we really don't know what to do with those results. So if you wanted some idea, go ahead and get the antibody test. And again, positive, you had it. Negative, we don't know.

The next question from Instagram says, "In my state, we're seeing 1,000 cases plus per day. Were these from people not wearing a mask? I'm asking because where I live, masks are mandated, and most people out and about are wearing the masks. Yet the daily rate is increasing. How is that?"

Remember, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, so you catch it from other people. Catching it from surfaces is unusual. It's really from contact with other people.

And although you're seeing, when you're out and about, people are wearing the mask, the reality is we need at least 70% to 80% of people in a community wearing a mask, physically distancing, washing hands, avoiding large gatherings. Unfortunately, that's not the case as much as we need it to be. So the reason why you're seeing infection increasing in your community is people aren't following the public health strategies that we know are successful.

So I'm glad you're doing it, and I'm glad when you're out and about you're seeing other people doing it. We just need to encourage more people to do that. OK. Lot of good questions.

So Susan from Facebook asks, "Will they vaccinate the elderly in nursing homes who either currently have COVID or have recovered from it? And then will families be allowed to visit if they're given the vaccine?" So when we're talking about that prioritization list, we do you say it's for first responders who are health professionals and then people in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, et cetera, and people that work there.

There's a caveat to that. Those persons who have had COVID do have some immunity, as we just talked about. So they're not going to be in that first list in the prioritization. We're not actually going to ask people whether or not they had it, but if you have had it, you're not going to get the vaccine first, given that we have scarce resources. Certainly, within the last three months, if you've had it, you likely have some immunity.

I think as we get more vaccine, we're also going to immunize those persons who already have COVID. In terms of visiting, we had made some improvements in terms of opening up nursing homes to allow loved ones to come in, even in some type of reduced capacity. With all the virus in the community, we have shut that down because we know that the greatest number of deaths actually are in the elderly and nursing homes.

So I'm hopeful the vaccine's going to help with that, and we'll be able to open up the nursing homes again. Because we really need to do that because we know folks are suffering from loneliness and isolation. And that's impacting their mental health and their physical health. So let's all get vaccinated so we can open up nursing homes, as well. OK.

The next question is from Mickey, who emailed me, and he asked me, "Once you get the vaccine, can you stop wearing the mask?" You need to keep wearing the mask, even if you're vaccinated. And here's why.

We're still learning about the full impact of the vaccine. There's some belief that you could still have a mild infection, and you're not impacted because you've been vaccinated. But you could still be spreading virus. We need to figure that out for sure.

So for now, go ahead. Get the vaccine, but still wear the mask. Still physically distant. Wash hands. Avoid large gatherings. We're going to need to be doing this for several more months, with and without vaccination.

And my last question is from Lisa, who emailed me, "I was wondering if subjects are still needed for trials?" Lisa, they still are recruiting persons to participate in trials. We all are hearing about Pfizer and Moderna, whose trials have completed, but there is at least five or six other vaccine trials that are still going on. Some are being done in the military. Some are being done in different areas of the country.

What you can do is call your local hospital. You can check online. You can check with your doctor's office to see if in your community, they're still recruiting volunteers for vaccine trials.

So keep your questions coming. We really want to get out good information. I want all your questions. Send them to me at [email protected].

Post them on social, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. And remember, I want you to think positive, but I want you to test negative. Thanks for watching.