Never before, in our lifetime, has it been so crucial to trust voices in public health and in media to deliver news and interpret data as we all navigate the global coronavirus pandemic. This year, the LA Press Club is presenting its President’s Award for Impact on Media to one such trusted source: Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN.
In an interview for "LA Times Today", Dr. Gupta joined host Lisa McRee to discuss the state of the pandemic.
What You Need To Know
- Never before, in our lifetime, has it been so crucial to have trusted voices in public health and in media to deliver news and interpret data as we all navigate the global coronavirus pandemic
- This year, the LA Press Club is presenting its President’s Award for Impact on Media to one such trusted source: Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN
- Dr. Gupta says there are various lessons he learned during the coronavirus pandemic that he would like to share with the next generation of doctors and health care providers
- The LA Press Club will honor Dr. Gupta at its awards ceremony on Saturday, October 16
Recently, Pfizer submitted its data on vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 to the FDA. It is now known that the delta variant is impacting children in a way the original variant did not.
“When you look at the overall impact on children, we know that children are less likely to be infected. There have been close to 6 million children who have tested positive for the virus and close to 800,000 to a million a month, roughly over the last couple of months since delta really started taking off. Delta was only about one to two percent of the overall new cases in May and by July and August time frame, it was the majority. You get an idea of how dangerous this is. Kids are less likely to get sick, but if you have kids as I do and you remember them, especially when they are little, they can spread these viruses,” said Dr. Gupta.
Medical experts said it is important that children be vaccinated if we want the pandemic to end, but Dr. Gupta said it can be challenging to get people to invest in prevention.
“It's a hard message, don't get me wrong. I think it does resonate more so I think for people, this idea that they are doing this to protect themselves and to protect others. The other thing, as a dad myself, I have these conversations with so many parents. We lapse into this idea of measuring things in terms of life and death; 500 children died during this pandemic. What this virus does to the body, we are still learning a lot. I am a neurosurgeon. The idea that a respiratory virus would so specifically affect the brain, sense of smell and nothing else from people, why would that be? My point is not to frighten people unnecessarily, but to say you do not want this virus,” he said.
Dr. Gupta said he was surprised at the number of nurses who refused to get vaccinated in New York.
“As we say in medicine, it's multifactorial, meaning that there are different reasons for different people. I focused on the flu a lot before this pandemic, and people thought the next pandemic would be a flu. Coronavirus was surprising. When you look at flu vaccination rates among health care workers across the board, in places where there is no mandate, it is around 70%, which I think surprises a lot of people. If you are a health care worker, you are taking care of sick people. You don't want to have the flu spread the truth to somebody else. It's about what society is," he said.
Dr. Gupta also addressed vaccine hesitancy more broadly.
"There is about 30% hesitancy out there now in places where there was mandated exposure to 95%, and it does make the case that mandates work, even if some people are resistant or reluctant because it is now mandated they do it. They do not want to lose their jobs. But even across the board if you take mandated areas and non-mandated areas when it comes to flu shots among health care workers, it is only around 80 to 82%. I think there is a population of people and again, there are all sorts of different reasons for that, that are just always going to be reluctant, resistant, whatever it may be, to the vaccines,” Gupta said.
Something that has caused concern is the demonization of health experts, misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and whether or not to get vaccinated.
“I think it's gone in some places beyond just the misinformation. I think there is a distinction between this and disinformation. Both are bad. Misinformation is just not getting good information or not understanding it correctly. Disinformation, which I've seen more than I think I've ever seen before as a strategic sort of pushing of bad information and I don't know what really drives it. You know, I go on my computer and I search for a new car and I get a bunch of Ford ads, and I understand that someone's trying to sell me a Ford. But what are they selling? They are trying to get people not to take a vaccine, trying to get people not to do things. It is basically disinformation to create confusion and chaos. We see it in politics all the time. I don't think we're used to seeing it in public health,” added Dr. Gupta.
Due to the science moving so fast concerning the novel-coronavirus, the information has confused many people. Dr. Gupta admits that he did not always agree with the ways information about the virus has been distributed.
“Part of my role as a journalist is that I'm trying to report the news, but I also have to translate sometimes difficult scientific topics. A couple of things like masks, I think that is the one that people often think about with regard to muddled messaging. In the beginning, it was not at all clear, I think, until the end of February, just how much this virus could spread from people who had no symptoms, asymptomatic, spread. People now know that to be a term, but people do not realize how unusual that is. Usually, someone spreads the virus when they are sick. The key was to screen for those symptoms and to tell those people to isolate themselves. That should really help us quell the pandemic if people are silent spreaders, which makes it much more challenging, but also made masks much more necessary,” he said.
Overall, Dr. Gupta says there are various lessons he learned during the coronavirus pandemic that he would like to share with the next generation of doctors and health care providers.
“I think one of the big lessons is how do we get people to invest personally at a societal level, at a world level in prevention? I think what most scientists will agree on is that what unfolded over the last two years did not need to happen, not to the level that it did. There are always going to be emerging pathogens, but there does not have to be pandemics. We know how to control this, but we do not; we did not. That there are really important lessons in there. I'm not even talking about new therapeutics or even fast-developed vaccines, I'm talking about what we know now as public health wise, we could have had a very different outcome. The second thing is, we are living on this planet with all these other organisms, most of them here long before us. We have to do this dance increasingly with all these other creatures, organisms, pathogens on Earth, we do. How are we going to navigate that dance going forward? What do we learn from this pandemic? I think is going to be a critical lesson. Then finally, trust. Why do we trust certain people who are the most trusted?” he said.
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