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When will I become eligible for the vaccine? What changes after I get it? Are the COVID-19 case numbers going to continue decreasing? In a live virtual event Tuesday, News & Observer reporter Richard Stradling got answers to these questions and more from Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi of Duke Health and Dr. David Wohl of UNC Health in Chapel Hill.
“We are in a cautiously optimistic time,” said Martinez-Bianchi, a family medicine physician who has advised the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on its COVID-19 response. She cited the decline in case numbers and deaths from the peak reached during and after the holidays and significant interest in getting the vaccine.
But “we can’t let go of our masks,” she said, holding a blue face mask up to her mouth. She cautioned against going to restaurants or bars.
“As physicians, Dr. Martinez-Bianchi and myself have to sometimes give patients not the news that they want to hear. I don’t think we’re going to have the same sort of normal we had before,” said Dr. Wohl. Especially with new variants continuing to spread, he said, protective measures will continue to be necessary.
People who have been vaccinated should remain cautious, he said, given the lack of data about the vaccine’s effectiveness against transmission. More data will be released on this in the upcoming days and weeks.
The doctors also shared their concerns about vaccine hesitation.
We’re fighting “another pandemic of misinformation,” said Martinez-Bianchi, about potential health risks of the vaccine.
One of the key tools in this fight is to offer vaccines in places that are familiar and comfortable, like churches and community centers, said Martinez-Bianchi, who is a cofounder of LATIN-19, a group of physicians and others who meet weekly to discuss how to prevent Hispanic/Latinx communities from being overlooked by the health care system.
The number of people who take the vaccine in the first eligibility groups will determine how quickly people in the final groups — younger people, or those without essential jobs or qualifying health conditions — can expect to receive the vaccine.
“It’s a shame that we just can’t do more, that we don’t have enough supply that we can open it up more widely,” Wohl said. But he’s hopeful that with new vaccines becoming available and supply increasing “we will see an advance in the schedule.”
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