MGH Doctor: Too soon to give vaccine all the credit for declining new COVID-19 cases

BOSTON — On all fronts, Massachusetts is trending in the right direction. COVID-19 cases are down, deaths are down and fewer cities and towns are in the red zone. So, can we attribute that to the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines?

Doctor Mark Siedner, infectious disease clinician and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital said it’s a million-dollar question. He added while probably too soon to attribute just to the vaccines, they’re likely contributing. But there are other contributing factors to consider as well.

Here’s some of Dr. Siedner’s conversation with anchor and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh.

Dr. Siedner: “This is a million-dollar question. And, I’m not sure we know the answer. Of course, we vaccinated high risk workers, both healthcare workers and others. And it’s possible that some of the transition reduction was due to early vaccinations of those high-risk groups. It’s also very possible that much of that second wave was due to increase mixing during Thanksgiving and Christmas. And after those waves resolved, and people stopped, that sorts of behavior, things got better. But to give any one thing credit, I think would be overestimating our ability to track the epidemic.”

Kavanaugh: “So, is it safe to say that you think the spread of this virus, even right today is really dependent on social distancing more so than vaccinating just based on who’s who can get the vaccine?”

Dr. Siedner “I think as of December of last year, the only tool we had in our tool shed was social distancing mask wearing has it now. And especially with the expanded eligibility of the vaccine, we have a much better solution, one that only protects us from illness, but allows us to return to a sense of normalcy. But all of our efforts should be on vaccinating as many people as possible.”

Kavanaugh: “Specifically looking at the oldest age group there, they were vaccinated first, if you consider the nursing home residents. So, you still don’t think there’s any attribution to the vaccine, at this point?”

Dr. Siedner: “I think it might be contributing, I think it would be premature to say that everything we’ve seen over the last few weeks has been the vaccine, I just don’t think we’ve gotten into enough arms yet. But, I think two months from now, when we’re vaccinated in 40% to 50% of our population, especially these highest risk groups are vaccinated, the best indicator that we’ve done our job is that these hospitalization rates aren’t going to go back up.”

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