INDIANAPOLIS – As the Thanksgiving holiday nears, IU Health’s Associate Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Paul Calkins spoke with WRTV on booster shots, keeping your family healthy this holiday season and what he believes is next during the pandemic.
Q: Here in Indiana, what are we seeing right now?
Dr. Calkins: "Well, it does look on the Indiana website like we're seeing a fair number of boosters being given. I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but people are taking them."
Q: Should folks over 18 who are fully vaccinated – regardless of the situation -- get a booster?
Dr. Calkins: "I think the thing is that anyone can be part of a chain of transmission that eventually reaches somebody who is vulnerable to severe disease. I think anything that we can all do individually to prevent that from happening is good. There's a small amount of inconvenience associated with getting boosted; you have to go somewhere to get the shot and you're probably not going to feel that great. For 24 hours afterward, at least some people are going to definitely have some systemic effects. But if it keeps, you know, your grandmother's cousin from getting sick, even though it's not directly down the line from you, that's still a valuable thing to do."
Q: If I get boosted today, will I have an antibody response for Thanksgiving?
Dr. Calkins: "I haven't really found a good number for that. I decided to just follow the two-week thing I got my booster. I don't know. I think it's been about a month ago. And I just decided to pick two weeks as the same interval that was picked for all the other doses, so I picked two weeks. I don't have a good answer for you."
Q: Since it's inconclusive, should people not get boosted right now and say, ‘Oh, it doesn't matter anyway, so I'll just wait.’
Dr. Calkins: "You might have missed Thanksgiving, but you haven't missed Christmas and you haven't missed the rest of the winter. It does really look like we're about to have a repeat of what happened last winter. I would say it's probably a little too late for Thursday, but it's not too late for December and January. I get boosted as soon as I can."
Q: Do you have a concern for gatherings during the holidays as we start to see COVID-19 cases rise once again?
Dr. Calkins: "Yes, unfortunately, it's probably just a replay of last year again, right? It got cold, everybody went inside and we're probably a little bit more fatigued about self-protection these days because this just goes on and on and on. But I think we have to assume that we're at risk of more transmission again, here over the Thanksgiving holiday and then into Christmas as well."
Q: What happens if you know some of my family is vaccinated and other family members are not vaccinated? Should I be getting together for the holidays?
Dr. Calkins: "I guess it depends on who's not vaccinated. If everybody in the household who is elderly or has some sort of chronic medical condition is vaccinated, and the unvaccinated people are 18 years of age and healthy and don't have any symptoms, I probably wouldn't do a lot of hugging. But if that's a lower risk scenario than if all the people around vaccinated are elderly, or have chronic medical conditions, that's not a good idea. You can also go and buy some home COVID testing, that's actually pretty easily available…to give yourself just a little bit of extra protection or feeling of protection, that wouldn't be a bad plan. The best bet, of course, would be for everybody to get protected by getting vaccinated to protect themselves and the people that they might visit with."
Q: Is there an end to this pandemic? Is this just going to be our new normal?
Dr. Calkins: "I think we can all assume that we're never going to see COVID go away. It's just not going to go away. But at some point, we're going to have to run out of people who are susceptible to cause these huge surges. At some point, this thing will settle down into being something that is just there in the background that produces disease, like every winter, sort of like flu does. That's what we'll see. And most people won't get seriously ill and some people will."
Q: Are you worried about a ‘Twindemic?’
Dr. Calkins: "Remember there really wasn't much flu last year and there's always a little bit of sort of residual holdover from the previous flu season because sometimes it's the same strains…nobody got flu last year, which means that there are a lot more people more susceptible this year than there were in a normal year…The flu vaccine uptake this year is a lot lower than it was last year in Indiana and in the nation, which means that there's just a lot more chance for flu outbreaks. And we already have enough on our hands with COVID, so flu shots are a really good idea."
Q: Can you prepare for a repeat of last year as we head into this respiratory season once again?
Dr. Calkins: "We can see it coming. We see that the disease has pretty much gone through the roof up there in Michigan and Wisconsin and Minnesota. So we know it's coming. And the one thing we could do is just check to make sure we have everything we need. We know what we need because we've been through this. Well, two major surges in a button. Well, sorry. We've been through this with three major surges, and then a bunch of background diseases, so we can check all of our supplies. We can do what we can to have enough people. That's pretty tough these days, I'm sure you've heard there's just a lot of people problems in healthcare right now. I don't know what we can do mentally because we're all pretty fatigued. We’re as prepared as we can be. We just really rather not see another one. But it does look like we're going to see at least something. It's just hard to say how much yet."