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Expert: Vaccines can be updated to match mutations

LI doctors answer questions about vaccinated people's immunity,

LI doctors answer questions about vaccinated people’s immunity, their risk of transmission to others and how effective the shot is against variants. Panelists include Dr. Chid Iloabachie, Associate Chairperson, Department of Emergency Medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream; and Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, MACP, FIDSA, FSHEA Chairman of the Department of Medicine, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Mount Sinai South Nassau. Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.

The formula of the coronavirus vaccine might, theoretically, be ineffective someday — it may even be probable — but the vaccines can be updated based on virus mutations, according to a doctor who spoke Wednesday afternoon at a Newsday webinar.

"Is it possible that, as the virus continues to mutate, that it will make the vaccines that we have today ineffective? That is possible; it may even be probable, if the virus continues to linger," said Dr. Chid Iloabachie, associate chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream. "But certainly the way that these vaccines were made allows the pharmaceutical companies to make minor adjustments that can increase the efficacy and create new vaccines that will help us going forward in a year or two years or whatever the timeline may be; No one knows at this point.

The subject of vaccines was the latest topic of Newsday's webinar series, hosted Wednesday by the newspaper’s associate editor Joye Brown, that explores life during, and perhaps more and more, after the pandemic. Prior sessions, which are archived on Newsday.com, have included long-haul COVID-19, remote learning, the vaccine, travel and school.

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of the department of medicine and chief of infectious diseases, Mount Sinai South Nassau, suggested that those who are vaccinated can begin to do things that people without vaccinations can't.

"I will, as a very, very very happy, proud grandfather, tell you that once I got doubly vaccinated, and it was two weeks afterwards, I did hug everyone that I could … and I will still continue to do that," he said, but counseled against doing so for those not feeling well, even if doubly vaccinated.

Being vaccinated is a ticket to a more open life after nearly a year of restrictions meant to stop the spread of the COVID-19, but they’re no panacea, at least not yet, Iloabachie said.

"They are a wonderful addition to our battle against COVID-19, the country and the world, but they do not make people invulnerable, and they do not certainly make people around you invulnerable," Iloabachie said.

People who are vaccinated should continue to wear masks in groups, especially around strangers, and socially distance, "if only for the medical reasons but also because of the sense of comfort that it gives people to know that you’re protecting them and they are protecting you" Iloabachie said.

"There is no way to identify those who have been vaccinated," he said.

Although vaccination does mean a relaxation of some restrictions, Iloabachie said, "There is no magic number, right? There is no hard-and-fast number that I can give you that says, ‘below this, safe, above this, fine.’ "

Before upcoming Easter and Passover gatherings, families should consider who’s vaccinated in the family, who’s had COVID-19, who is high risk because of preexisting conditions, "and their relative risk needs to be determined," he said.

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