Vaccine Q&A: Dr. McCullers, Infectious Disease Specialist, UTHSC, answers questions on COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. McCullers answers questions on COVID-19 vaccine

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The coronavirus vaccine rollout is underway across the Mid-South with questions surfacing each day.

We sat down with Dr. Jon McCullers, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Pediatrician in Chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital to answer questions about the vaccine.

Early Tuesday, McCullers tweeted alarming information about the mortality rate in Shelby County. He said based on county data 12 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of Monday could likely die in a few weeks.

What message do you have for those watching who may not be taking this virus seriously now that TWO vaccines have arrived?

McCullers said he believes people aren’t understanding what the daily case numbers mean. During the county’s first safer-at-home order, cases dropped down to around 100 to 200 cases per day and now that the fall surge has come, the county’s numbers are record-breaking.

“If we’re averaging 800 cases a day right now that’s 10 deaths a day we’re gonna see four or five weeks down the road as a result of this virus,” he said.

Can you elaborate on this new COVID-19 variant popping up in the UK?

McCullers says new strains emerging in the UK and South Africa, which seem to spread more easily and are more infectious, do not seem to be more deadly than the regular strain. He said they are also covered by the vaccine.

Speaking of vaccines, McCullers was vaccinated Saturday. He said he experienced a little bit of arm soreness but no other issues.

“The rollout’s going smoothly within the health systems right now,” said McCullers. “It’s getting distributed to hospitals, to frontline workers -- the health department’s getting vaccines this week and next week and is working with our first responders and others.”

How important is masking even after you get the vaccine?

“It’s going to be important for some months and maybe longer to continue wearing a mask even after getting the vaccine because the vaccine is about 94% effective which is fantastic but that still means one in 20 people can still catch the virus,” said McCullers.

He said masking up will play a large role in driving the numbers down.

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