GRASONVILLE — In the 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, what have we learned? The Star Democrat recently spoke with our own local expert, Dr. Eric Wargotz of Grasonville, to review what scientists have discovered since March 2020.
Wargotz is senior staff pathologist, medical laboratory director and chief of pathology, emeritus, Doctors Community Medical Center, Luminis Health Care and clinical professor of pathology of the George Washington University School of Medicine.
“This virus, regardless of its origin from a Wuhan lab or a wet market, is not merely a nuisance but is a menace,” Wargotz said. “The state of our understanding is fluid.”
He listed some of the now documented scientific facts:
• Lockdowns are not helpful in curbing spread of the disease.
• Medical-grade P95 masks are helpful, but of limited use in preventing virus transmission and cloth masks are not.
• Vaccines are not preventative as originally presented, but they are suppressive in that most vaccinated people do not get severe illness requiring hospitalization or die once they acquire a COVID infection.
• Children 12 and under are much less likely to develop severe illness and die from COVID than adults.
• Masking children under 12 years old has little benefit and, in fact, is physically harmful to them, according to many studies, and socially-psychologically harmful in a majority of studies.
“The European and UK equivalents of our U.S. CDC have stated this recently based on scientific clinical data and have initiated a number of limited, short-term masking recommendations for school children or none at all, leaving masks at school merely optional for students,” Wargotz said. “A proven, more acceptable policy is for adults working with children to wear masks around them.”
He said the problem is that most masks, while they stop droplets, can’t stop the aerosolized virus particles, so the protection is negligible for most healthy people.
“We have also learned from published research from other countries that both hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are useful in treating symptomatic COVID-19 patients, but currently neither have U.S. FDA approval for COVID-19 use and, hence, dosing instructions,” he said.
A study, “Invermectin for Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19 Infection: A Systematic Review, Meta-analysis, and Trial Sequential Analysis to Inform Clinical Guidelines,” published in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Therapeutics, looked at 24 clinical trials involving 3,406 participants. It concluded large reductions in COVID-19 deaths are possible using ivermectin and that using the drug early in an infection may reduce the numbers who become seriously ill.
However, without FDA or CDC approval, there are no appropriate dosing instructions for human use available to the general public, which has led to some people taking overdoses while trying to treat themselves with prescriptions intended for animals.
On the other hand, “Regeneron, an artificially produced antibody treatment, is highly effective in symptomatic patients, is U.S. FDA approved and widely available,” Wargotz said.
These are important findings as we move forward in a world where COVID-19 will continue to spread rapidly and mutate as most upper respiratory viruses do, he added.
Many employers are mandating vaccines, but as an individual, Wargotz said he does not support forced injections.
“As a physician, I highly recommend that those in high risk age groups and high-risk medical categories do get a COVID-19 vaccine. By getting the vaccine, it is reality that these high risk individuals have a high likelihood of avoiding severe COVID disease, hospitalization and death,” he said.
Although he doesn’t support mandates, Wargotz advised everyone eligible to receive the vaccine strongly consider getting it to help avoid the risk of severe COVID infection.
“The discussion should be had with your health care provider as only your health care provider can help you assess your risk,” Wargotz said. “Our president, presidential advisors, governors, television and cable personalities and celebrities should not and cannot be in charge of your health care decisions. Get the facts from your physician or other qualified health care professional, and make a decision on vaccination with your health care provider.”
If someone has already had a documented COVID-19 infection, Wargotz said they don’t need a vaccine.
“You have natural immunity. That is the science. Recently reported data from Israeli institutions, the Cleveland Clinic and 14 others reveal natural immunity is more robust against COVID-19 infection, including the variants. This is because the vaccines are produced to target the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus, whereas, when you are infected, your body mounts an immune response to all the proteins of the virus,” he said.
People who have had COVID-19 infections are still eligible to get vaccinated if they want.
“Research is inconclusive as to whether you will derive additional benefit by receiving a vaccine after having had COVID,” Wargotz said, adding, “Remember that having had COVID before with or without having received a COVID vaccine does not provide lifetime immunity from developing a COVID infection.
“It is important to remember that COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family which accounts for approximately 25% of common colds. We all continue to get colds over and over again throughout our entire lives. There are no vaccines against the common cold, and thus, do not expect a lifelong immunity against COVID-19 whether you have an infection with it or a vaccine against it, or both.”
The science about vaccine booster shots is evolving, he said.
“At this time, the boosters are a third dose of the original Pfizer vaccine. In Israel, their data suggests a booster is helpful in high risk individuals,” Wargotz said.
He continued, “Whether you have acquired natural immunity through an infection or immunity through vaccination, feel confident that if you get a COVID-19 infection, your chances of developing severe disease, having to be hospitalized or death from COVID-19 is low compared with those people who have had neither.”
Wargotz said it is likely there will be additional mutated variants of COVID-19 which occur, possibly more infectious and deadly than those we have already encountered.
“The current vaccines are developed against only the spike protein. Natural immunity results in an immune response against numerous viral proteins. Vaccine targeting needs to be broader if the vaccination effort is truly to have a chance of being effective against mutants as they develop, infect and kill,” he said.
Wargotz continued, “We must learn to live with this contagion. We need to continue to protect ourselves the best we can, whether through choosing to get vaccinated and/or receiving medicines and other known treatments, which help control the illness. These measures will minimize the severity of COVID-19 infection so that we have fewer severe infections, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer deaths due to it.”