Local Epidemiologist: U.S. In A 'Foot Race' Between Virus And Vaccine

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — As vaccine distribution ramps up in the Commonwealth and across the country -- one local infectious disease expert says we are in a "foot race" between Covid-19 and it's emerging variants -- and the vaccine.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association hosted a 30-minute webinar on Friday with Robert A. Duncan, M.D., MPH -- the director of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control at the Center for Infectious Diseases at Lahey Hospital in Burlington.

Duncan spoke about the "transforming nature of the pandemic" as variants of the virus continue to spread across the nation and around the world.

"I think we very much need to take this seriously," Duncan said. "This is something that we need to marshal our best defenses to keep this from emerging and reemerging, because the more chances you give to expand the universe of the virus -- of people infected with the virus -- the more virus there is that's out there, and the greater pool you have to reap more mutation from."

The webinar comes as state health officials announced on Tuesday that the first case of the P.1 Covid-19 variant has been detected in Massachusetts, after the variant was first discovered in Brazil. The case was detected in a woman in her 30s that lives in Barnstable County.

Duncan said when it comes to infections among children, he is not aware of any data that suggests the variants develop into a more severe case.

"The advantage we have so far is that the native virus -- the wild type virus in this -- appears to be less pathogenic for children, less likely to infect younger children in general," he said. "Although it certainly does, and they also represent a potential pool for transmission."

He added that many are wondering what the timeline will be for a return to normalcy in the U.S -- and the "answer is actually that [health officials] don't know."

"As Dr. Fauci has said -- you really need to tell people the truth on that even if it's inconvenient," Duncan said. "One of the suggestions was that we will have an uncertain spring -- we're in the middle of that -- an amazing summer, which is optimistic, a cautious fall and winter based on whether this is partly a seasonal disease and coming back indoors, and then finally relief -- when we have more people vaccinated."

Duncan has served as a senior staff physician in infectious diseases at Lahey Hospital since 1993, and hospital epidemiologist since 1999. He is a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

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Written by Rachel Armany

(Photo: Getty Images)

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