ABC’s top health official talks COVID with NEWS10

Coronavirus Outbreak

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York is not alone in trying to get residents vaccinated while battling that new variant of COVID-19. Meanwhile, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all continue rising.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton is ABC’s Chief Medical Correspondent. She joined NEWS10’s Christina Arangio on Tuesday to break down the latest in the fight against the virus.

Of the U.K. strain, Ashton said the new strain of COVID-19, which U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said is 70% more contagious:

“Viruses mutate for a living, so we expect to see new variants. Not all variants make the virus worse. Some are neutral; some make it less of an issue. This one, according to British Scientists, does seem to make this virus more transmissible, which is a massive problem even if it’s not more severe,” she said. “If you increase the number of people infected, you will see an increase in the number of deaths.”

Citing public health officials and epidemiologists, she said, “It’s not just one case. If it’s in the U.K., if it’s in Canada, it’s definitely here, and not in sporadic fashion or amounts, either.”

With other potential strains on the table—for example, another is rumored in South Africa—NEWS10 asked if the current vaccines will work on new variants.

“There’s no indication—hard proof—that the vaccines don’t work against these new variants,” she said. Even so, “We have a big problem in this country, because we only run genetic sequencing on less than %1 of all specimens. Other parts of the world, they are doing much more extensive genetic surveillance. We can’t be able to respond to new variants if we don’t know they’re here, and we’re still not even to the point where we’re treading water in terms of our genetic sequencing ability.”

Dr. Ashton offered some advice for those waiting anxiously to be vaccinated:

“You have to acknowledge the emotional and psychological stressors here. We’ve been going through this, now, for a long time, and it is frustrating that the logistics and the operational aspects of this vaccine rollout have been slow and hit multiple hiccups along the way. But in New York state, people can go to ‘Am I Eligible,’ online, put in their information, and then they can get information about whether it’s their turn, and where they can go to get vaccinated,” she said.

Still, she said, “It’s not just about manufacturing vaccine or shipping them. It’s about distributing them and administering them. So, we can have all the vaccine in the world, but if you cannot inject it into people, that is not going to help us when we’re seeing upwards of 300,000 cases.”

Echoing the sentiment of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Ashton said, “We need to start ramping up, and ramp up very quickly.”

“Control the things you can control in your life, in your environment, right now,” Ashton said on continuing to weather the storm through the ongoing pandemic. “Postpone or reschedule or delay anything that is not essential.”

“This is not forever. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s unpleasant. But right now, your health, or the health of someone very close to you, may be at stake. So, this is the time not to get together with people that you’ve been missing for the last ten months. Not to go on anything that isn’t imperative or essential. That’s what you can do—that’s what we all can do—until more of us can be vaccinated.”

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