Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious...

Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital, stands in the laboratory as he speaks about this seasons flu and coronavirus on Feb. 5, 2020 in Oceanside. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Millions of sleeves rolling up to take the COVID-19 vaccines promise a possible normal summer 2021, a panel of government officials and medical professionals said Wednesday night.

"We will end this pandemic," Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of infectious diseases and department of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital, said during a panel discussion. "The only way you can get rid of a pandemic is by vaccines."

The panel, held online over Zoom and organized by the Jewish Alliance for Dialogue and Engagement along with The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC, was intended to be an antidote to skepticism over the two vaccines that had been approved in the United States.

"You cannot get COVID from taking these vaccines," said Glatt, who is also a rabbi. The vaccines have shown to be 95% effective and have "zero risk," he said, though there have been rare cases of allergic reaction. "It's important that everybody eventually take this vaccine and especially the people at the highest risk, which are generally older people and people with underlying medical problems."

Andrea Ault-Brutus, director of health equity for the Nassau County Health Department, said the vaccination effort needed to work with trusted community leaders and stakeholders to spread scientifically based information to counter a "the history of distrust, especially in the Black community."

"We can see from immunization efforts, especially with influenza, that when you partner with the community you get higher rates of taking the vaccine," Ault-Brutus said.

Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said people receiving the vaccines as it became more widely available would not be asked their immigration status.

"The health department's sole purpose is to prevent the spread of disease," Eisenstein said. "We don't care where you're from. We don't care what your status is."

Eisenstein said that high risk hospital workers were first in line but that by next week almost all health care workers or workers in a health care facility would be eligible to get the vaccine.

"The good news is each week more vaccine is available to our system," Eisenstein said. "Each week the governor has put out a new list of expanded groups of people who qualify for the vaccine."

Panelists said they expected by late spring or early summer that every American who wanted to be vaccinated should be able to get it.

"That would be great because it would put us in line for a relatively back to normal summer, and I think that's a reasonable hope," Eisenstein said.

The glimmer of hope comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the positive test rate in the county had surged past 10%.

"It's really important that we get the word out in a very consistent way that the vaccine is the path to normalcy," Curran said. "We want to keep our kids in school. We want to make sure businesses can continue to function. We're not looking for more restrictions on our restaurants and our businesses. We want to keep the economy going."

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