Last week, Naval District Washington (NDW) Public Health Emergency Officer, Dr. Paresh Lakhani, talked about COVID-19 and the available vaccines during an information session streamed live on the NDW Facebook page. His discussion was followed by a Q&A session. The following article contains edited excerpts taken from that session.

During his discussion, Dr. Lakhani described the vaccine as a “medical miracle,” explaining that it came about so quickly because of Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership initiated by the federal government to facilitate and accelerate the development and manufacturing of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Lakhani explained that while a vaccine normally takes 4 to 10 years to get FDA approval, that is usually because a private company with stockholders has to put the vaccine trials together, which takes money and time. At one point during the COVID-19 vaccine process, the U.S. government stepped in — via Operation Warp Speed — and offered to financially assist these companies by providing funding to start the manufacturing process if their initial results were showing impact that indicated their vaccine was working.

What private company is ever going to get that opportunity,” Lakhani said. “That’s how we were able to get the vaccine so quickly.”

While the current vaccines are not yet fully FDA-approved, that has to do with unknowns surrounding the transmission of the virus after vaccination, or how the vaccine works in specific populations.

“These are things the FDA requires for full approval and that’s all the stuff they’re studying now,” Lakhani said.

Normally, Lakhani added, companies will wait for full FDA approval and then start manufacturing, but in this case, the Emergency Use Authorization noted that the vaccine is not harmful, and if two shots are taken about six weeks apart, there’s a 95% efficacy rate in preventing the disease.

“The FDA said if we give people two shots and can prevent 95% of people from dying from [COVID-19], we’re going to go ahead and let people have it; but that’s also why it’s voluntary and not a required vaccination,” Lakhani said.

Why getting vaccinated is important

Dr. Lakhani noted that the more vaccine we get into people, the easier it will be for us to potentially begin losing restrictions, and the quicker we get herd immunity, the less chance there is for variants of the virus to surface.

“We’ve all heard about the variants popping up,” he said. “We need people to get the vaccine so if they’re exposed to COVID, it doesn’t have a reservoir to enter; it’s got nowhere to go and can’t move on. The longer it stays alive in humans, the more it has a chance to mutate and some of these vaccines have the chance to no longer work as well. So the key is getting people vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The following are a few questions asked, along with their edited answers:

Q: How do you find out about distribution plans and your own prioritization?

Lakhani: We are currently following the DoD schema when it comes to priority and the first people to get the shots were 1A healthcare workers and first responders. After that we moved to 1B: mission-critical capabilities, our deployers, and people over 75.

Sometimes there are positions with commands that are absolutely mission-critical and you cannot telework; and the risk of getting COVID is high. In specific commands, [the vaccine] can be allocated either by OPNAV or the Marine COVID Task Force. If there are vaccines available, they can be administered. We hope to get more doses, but it’s out of our control. Go to your Command leadership to learn your prioritization.

Q: How do you work through all of the misinformation out there?

Lakhani: Wherever you turn, you’re going to find information about COVID-19, but my recommendation is that the CDC is the one and only website you should rely on for all your COVID information. If I’m going to rely on info that is meaningful and helps me make my decision, that’s where I go. It’s an easy website to navigate and it has the answers to everything.

Q: What are the secondary health effects of the pandemic?

Lakhani: Mental health is obviously an issue. Even post-infection we’ve seen a rise in anxiety and depression. We’re all used to our social life and friends. There are other avenues you have to make sure you’re not alone. It’s not the same as going out with friends, but still connecting virtually, having someone to talk to, is very important. It’s important for leadership to realize their younger Sailors haven’t experienced this before. There are resources and people to talk to.

And don’t put off seeing a doctor [if you don’t feel well]. Don’t defer treatment. Hospitals are safe; clinics are safe. It is better to be seen than it is to hold off; that’s the best thing I can say.

Before the session ended, NDW Commandant Rear Adm. Carl Lahti, thanked Lakhani for his time and encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.

“I’ve personally received my first shot and next week will receive my second shot, and would strongly encourage everyone to consider vaccination,” Lahti said. “You need to get down to the science and practical public health on this. Talk to your personal medical provider to make sure it’s safe for you and that it’s the right choice. You need to weigh the risks vs. the gain for you personally. You reduce the risk to the entire population if you get vaccinated. I realize it’s a personal choice and everyone’s got different medical conditions, but in general, the risk to the entire population, the risk your own family and coworkers is reduced when you get vaccinated.”

To view the discussion in its entirety, visit facebook.com/NavyDistWash/videos/174136217434037.