Infectious Disease Expert Worries About Further COVID-19 Mutations as Missouri Vaccination Rates Remain Low
Missouri has now been a hotspot for new COVID-19 infections for more than a month – largely due to the delta variant. This variant is much easier to spread and is causing more serious disease in younger people.
KBIA’s Rebecca Smith sat down with Dr. Christelle Ilboudo, a pediatric infectious disease physician at MU Health Care, to learn more about the current delta variant and what the future could like as COVID-19 continues to mutate.
Rebecca Smith: So, Dr. Ilboudo – we’re seeing high rates of COVID cases across the state right now due to the delta variant, and there’s lot of communities where we have what I’ve been calling a mixed vaxed population – kids who can’t get vaccinated yet, some fully or partially vaccinated people and then a lot of people that aren’t getting the vaccine at all.
"We also know that natural immunity wanes quicker over time than immunity that we gain from the vaccine, and so previously having had COVID is not going to help you."
And I was wondering, does this increase the risk of creating a more effective or transmissible variant – you know, something even beyond delta?
Dr. Christelle Ilboudo: You know, let's say that you have 100 soldiers on the frontline, but you only have armor and weapons for ten of them, right? And so, what happens? Your enemy learns your play, they know that the weak ones are in the back. So, they attack better, and sooner or later the people that actually have the armor and the weapons will also fall.
Even though they may not die, they will get injured – because your enemy has learned a weakness that they can now use to its advantage not only affect the people who are not vaccinated or not protected, but also weaken the people who have some vaccine protection.
Rebecca Smith: So, one thing we’re hearing a lot of, honestly since the beginning of the pandemic is this idea of, “Oh, I’ll get COVID, be fine and develop natural immunity?” And I was wondering how would you respond to this kind of misinformation?
Dr. Christelle Ilboudo: So, I have a couple of responses. Number one is the notion that we will eventually get herd immunity, right? Everybody will have it. There's only 1% mortality, though, we'll be fine. I don't think that would be the case because if you look at places like Iran, there’s no end in sight.
So, if this statement holds true – that one day everybody gets it, it will die down – is certainly not true, because the virus is mutating and the variants are getting smarter, and so, your old protection is no longer good enough.
And we also know that natural immunity wanes quicker over time than immunity that we gain from the vaccine, and so previously having had COVID is not going to help you.
And then the other one is: What was your original intent behind the vaccine? The original intent was not to eradicate infection. The original intent is to decrease the likelihood that somebody will die or would get very sick with COVID-19. That was the original intention, and they are doing that.
Rebecca Smith: If we continue to see high rates of hesitancy and folks don’t start getting vaccinated or using precautions – like masking, will we see more variants developing – like preliminarily we’re hearing about delta plus OR lamba? You know, what does this mean long term for our community?
"What was your original intent behind the vaccine? The original intent was not to eradicate infection. The original intent is to decrease the likelihood that somebody will die or would get very sick with COVID-19. That was the original intention, and they are doing that."
Dr. Christelle Ilboudo: So, it is really hard to know right now. I think we've all gone away from the notion of herd immunity because, obviously, we are seeing variants that are that are not fitting the mold of what we thought was going to happen with immunity.
I still believe that we can push the message of vaccination and really get people to understand why it's important to you, and that is one of the ways that we can really get out of this pandemic.
Other than that, I really don't know what the future holds, but just seeing the devastation, the awful things that are created because of this pandemic and the misinformation that has spread throughout. It's very heartbreaking.
But, like I said, I'm hopeful that we can continue to spread the message and that little by little, hopefully sooner than later, we will win this war.