GOPIO panel demystifies Covid-19 and vaccines


What is Covid-19? How to prevent the spread of Covid-19? How effective are the vaccines to prevent Covid-19? Who should get the vaccine and what do we know of its safety?

Answers to such questions were provided at a panel discussion by healthcare professionals, organized virtually by the Manhattan chapter of the Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin (GOPIO) in collaboration with the Indian consulate in New York on January 15.

Consul General Randhir Kumar Jaiswal

Consul General of India in New York Randhir Jaiswal congratulated GOPIO for organizing the panel discussion, and said: “There is optimism for the new year and we hope to put this pandemic away.”

Jaiswal referred to India’s massive vaccination campaign and praised the two India-based pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing the vaccines in record time.

We will be sharing our vaccines with other countries who need. It gives us pride that we can share our scientific knowledge with the world,” the consul general said.

Dr Arnab Ghosh, a bone marrow transplant specialist and immunologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering moderated the session, with three expert panelists who are on the frontlines of New York’s defenses against the coronavirus,

There is no magic wand to destroy fully the virus yet,” Ghosh warned.

Dr Monika Shah, also of Memorial Sloan Kettering and specializing in infectious diseases, provided an overview of what Covid-19 is.

Food is not a transmitter of the virus, while shared common surfaces could be a transmitter,” she said, emphasizing the need for wearing masks.

Any form of masking is better than no masking. Studies have proved that masks help prevent the spread of the virus. N95 mask provides greater prevention; regular mask is good and we should use it in public,” she said.

She said the “variability of symptoms in Covid-19 is staggering and astonishing. While 80 percent might cope well, 20 percent need treatment, 15 percent require hospitalization. And nearly 5 percent of those diagnosed positive face critical conditions.”

While most of these who are at risk of critical care are those above 65 years of age, and with comorbidities, younger people can develop serious disease,” she added.

When diagnosed, do all that you do when you are ill with any other disease,” she told the audience. “Depending on the symptoms, if you can manage, stay home, but when feeling breathless, if you notice palpitations and severe tiredness, seek medical help.”

She said the vaccines developed in the US as well as those manufactured in India are meant to generate antibodies to protect from the virus.

She assured that the vaccines are “known to be very effective, and also in combating the new variants of the virus, although their effectiveness may be a little different.”

She added: “Even if we get vaccine, we need to be cautious.”

The good news, said Dr Sunanda Gaur, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, is that children in general do well with this virus.

Gaur said as many as 2 million kids have been infected with Covid-19 and that there are 175 deaths among children have been reported so far.

On reopening schools, Gaur said: “When the rate of infection is in the community is lower, schools can be opened.”

On the question of breastfeeding for mothers who have Covid-19, Gaur said: “Virus is not in the milk. Pregnant women do not transmit the virus to newborn children. Mother needs to breastfeed safely. Bur she needs to isolate from other kids and family members.”

Dr Madhury Ray, who works at the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, explained why Covid-19 is deadlier than prior pandemics.

We are seeing more travel and interaction than ever before in human history… Travel hubs like Wuhan and NYC have become epicenters of the transmission and spread of the virus,” she pointed out.

She emphasized: “Stay home when you are sick. Practice face covering. Maintain physical distance. Wash hands frequently.”

She pointed out that all Covid-19 tests are free in NYC, and emphasized that one need not be concerned about one’s citizenship or immigration status and these facilities were accessible to all the members of the community.