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In Conversation with infectious disease expert Dr Paul Griffin – Covid 19 myths and facts.

In Conversation with infectious disease expert Dr Paul Griffin – Covid 19 myths and facts.

As the emergent Delta variant forces rolling lockdowns across Australia, bringing accompanying calls to get tested and vaccinate, understanding the health guidelines has never been more important.

We were privileged to have Infectious Disease Physician and Microbiologist Dr Paul Griffin join us at Five Good Friends HQ for a conversation with CEO, Simon Lockyer to provide clear, concise, and objective information about COVID-19.

As we continue to provide essential frontline services into our Member’s home, it’s extremely important that our staff and Helpers have access to the highest quality scientific information to make informed, safe decisions.

Unfortunately, there is an increasing amount of confusion and misinformation in the community about COVID-19.

Dr Griffin agreed.

“One thing clear throughout all this is the misinformation is spreading faster than the virus.”

“A lot of people talk about conspiracy theories and that the virus was manufactured or produced, but I simply don't think that's the case.”

“Complacency has really crept in a lot of places because we had it controlled.”

“We need people to go and get vaccinated - that’s the simple answer to most of the questions I receive.”

Starting with fundamentals, Dr Griffin gave a simple break down of exactly what Covid-19 is.

“COVID-19 is actually the name of the disease, the virus itself is called SARS Co V2, a bit of a mouthful which is why we often say COVID-19.

Dr Griffin explained that it is not a new group of viruses as they have been around since the 1960’s.

“The trouble with this one is it's probably got just the right mix of properties. A lot of people aren't that sick, so they go about their day to day lives spreading it around.”

“Delta is clearly more capable of infecting people. It's probably twice as infectious as Alpha which was the UK strain. The Delta strain maybe produce around 1000 times more virus so there's just more virus.”

Dr Griffin explained our ageing loved ones and our loved ones who are living with disability are vulnerable because they are the highest risk group that progress to the most severe symptoms.

“We don’t know the full answer yet, the elderly and those in the community with medical problems are more susceptible. They are the people that we do need to prioritise in terms of prevention.”

With Australia now seeing growing clusters of case numbers arising in young people, there are concerns about whether it is due to young people not being vaccinated or because the virus is simply more infectious.

Dr Griffin explained it's probably a bit of both.

“Delta 's more infectious across the board, and if we look at who's vaccinated, Australia obviously still is a long way behind a lot of other countries. But most countries have prioritised the elderly for very good reason.”

Vaccine hesitancy has become a concern globally and an increasing roadblock to achieving the required take up in community to control the spread of the virus.

Dr Griffin reinforced the importance and effectiveness of vaccines in fighting the virus.

“We know that people sometimes underestimate the impact of this virus and think why would I bother getting vaccinated?”

“What a vaccine is designed to do is expose your immune system to something that's part of that virus so it's prepared or trained. “

“We need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, that’s very clear.”

“What's really clear is that our vaccine strategy will evolve overtime.”

“It's not because what we've been doing is wrong or hasn't worked. We're learning more and more all the time and we're trying to work out ways to improve how these vaccines work.”

“We’ve got an excellent regulator in this country, a rigorous, highly diligent regulator ATAGI, they look at how these vaccines work in clinical trial.”

While there has been a lot of concern about the vaccines and issues such as the best age to get the Astra Zeneca vaccine at, Dr Griffin reassured us that ATAGI is doing a great job.

Dr Griffin also discussed the safety of vaccines in pregnancy and the relationship between that and breastfeeding.

“Early on we said we didn't have a lot of information about pregnant women. Now, we have great information about the Pfizer vaccine that has been used lots in clinical trials, and in the real world, and people that are pregnant, and it is very safe. A lot of people have had AstraZeneca and didn't either know they were pregnant or got pregnant shortly thereafter and it also appears that there's no safety concerns.”

In addition, Dr Griffin said the outcome for the newborns is that they also benefit from the vaccinations of their mums.

“It's been a really effective strategy for lots of different viruses and different bugs, to vaccinate people in pregnancy, because you get a “two for one’. You protect mum while she's pregnant and you protect the baby too 'cause the baby gets Mum’s antibodies”

The discussion with Dr Griffin highlighted that health professionals are always learning, especially during a pandemic.

“Long Covid is a is a very well recognised phenomenon now. It is a bit hard to measure…we are still learning about it.”

“There are a portion of people that can have long Covid symptoms and the simple fact is we don't know really how long they going to last because we've only been doing this for 18/19 months.”

“The benefit of the vaccine is that it doesn't stop people getting infected 100%, but we hope that things like Long Covid, the more significant manifestations will be protected to a very large degree by getting the vaccine.”

A common misunderstanding has been around if the vaccinated can still transmit COVID?

“Yes, you can…. we do still see cases and I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding that this is a failure of the vaccine.”

“The vaccines are about 80 or 90% in terms of how much they prevent people getting symptomatic infection after they are vaccinated.”

“How much they reduce transmission is harder to measure. But now we have good studies. We've looked at things like household transmission, asymptomatic infection and viral shedding in vaccinated people and we know these vaccines do help with reducing transmission it's probably 50 to 60%.”

“It probably reduces the amount of people that will get infected by about half or a bit over. And when people are infected, so by definition that means about 50%, they are likely to have far fewer symptoms for far shorter duration’”

Dr Griffin explained there are some health habits and behaviours we are all need to adopt going forward.

“I think we all agree now this is going to become what we call an endemic virus, one that's going to be around for a while. Whether it's forever or for ten, fifteen, twenty years - it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon. “

“We are going to need some simple mitigation strategies to continue long term. What I mean by that is not border restrictions and lockdowns, because I think they're far too harsh to be considered a long-term strategy. They were really designed to get us to the point of having safe and effective vaccines which we do.”

Dr Griffin outlines some healthy habits and behaviours that we are all going to need to adopt longer term.

“Use masks when you can't socially distance so wearing a mask on a plane might be a thing we do forever or for a very long time. We will need high rates of testing, so if people are sick they need to go and get a test, so we know what it is and stay away from other people.

“We hope people will have learned to do their hand hygiene forever as that helps with all infections basically. And of course, social distancing, outdoor dining, and outdoor entertainment a little bit more than indoor cause the risk is a bit lower.”

People need to make some simple adjustments, so we reduce our risk.

Dr Griffin provided hope for a way forward with the use of Smart Apps to help with contract tracing, increased use in rapid testing and the development of drugs to help manage the symptoms of Covid.

Dr Griffin even joked that he now found himself more popular at social gatherings – with everyone wanting to talk to scientist such as himself about Covid-19.

“Health literacy – you can’t go into a pub or a shop, people are talking about vaccine efficacy and herd immunity and all those sorts of things.”

“People’s knowledge of infectious diseases and how to prevent them will have been accelerated by all of this. Research and development of new drugs and vaccines accelerated and the ability to cooperate and collaborate better in science and research will continue into the future.”

At Five Good Friends we understand these are difficult and unsettling times. Being able to access an expert such as Dr Paul Griffin is a fantastic opportunity and privilege..

We take our role in the community incredibly seriously, we’re working with a vulnerable group of people, and we believe it’s our responsibility to be informed by update to date, reliable information.

So, to wrap up with Dr Griffins key message -

“We need people to go and get vaccinated - that’s the simple answer to most of the questions I receive.”

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