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Don't wait to get COVID-19 vaccine, trio of LI doctors recommend

LIers submitted more than 2,000 questions to Dr. Anthony Fauci for a Newsday Live conversation earlier this week. He couldn't answer all of them, so local doctors pick up where he left off. Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.

Panelists include Dr. David Battinelli, SVP, Chief Medical Officer Northwell Health; Dr. Philip Solomon, Director of Geriatric Education and Clinical Integration and Associate Program Director for the Geriatrics Fellowship program at Northwell; and Dr. Bruce Polsky, Chairman of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island.

Don't wait.

That's the message from three leading Long Island physicians who told a Newsday Live panel Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine had been proved safe and effective for all age groups and should be taken as soon as it becomes available.

"When your number is called get the vaccine that is available on that day and that time," said Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of the department of medicine at NYU Long Island School of Medicine, and NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. "That's my advice … Just get vaccinated."

Polsky joined Dr. David Battinelli, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell Health, Dr. Phillip Solomon, director of geriatric education and clinical integration at Northwell, and Newsday health reporter David Reich-Hale to answer questions from Newsday readers about the vaccine and its efficacy.

The discussion, moderated by Newsday Associate Editor Joye Brown, comes amid a steady increase in Long Island COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday that his incoming administration will release nearly all available vaccine doses, instead of holding some back, to rapidly increase distribution.

The Long Island doctors said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been proved safe for the elderly and those with comorbidities; would not impact fertility and was effective against the more contagious variant of the virus recently discovered in Britain.

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"This underlines the importance of getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible," Solomon said. "But the evidence is that both vaccines should be effective at preventing this new mutation."

The physicians recommend that Long Islanders who have recovered from COVID-19 get vaccinated as the immunity gained from having the virus is believed to be fleeting, lasting only a few months.

Polsky said hospitals were beginning to see patients who first got the virus in the spring now get sick a second time with COVID.

"It's clear you can get a second case of COVID," he said. "So the immunity you get from recovering from COVID is clearly not adequate to carry you all the way through."

The doctors warned, however, that individuals who were vaccinated should not immediately return to high-risk activities such as travel, seeing friends and family and indoor dining.

It remains unclear, Battinelli said, whether someone who has had the vaccine could still be a carrier of the virus, potentially transmitting it to those who have not been vaccinated.

And while 95% effective, the vaccine does not guarantee the recipient will not contract a more mild case of COVID.

"We are not sure if you can carry COVID and give it to someone," after taking the vaccine, Battinelli said.

Solomon said that until the country reached herd immunity, basic COVID-19 precautions should remain in place.

"The vaccine is not a get-out-of-jail-free card," he said, "or that we stop social distancing and we stop masking."

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