12th COVID-19 Symposium Hosted by NYMC and TCUS
New York Medical College (NYMC) and Touro College and University System (TCUS) held another edition of the series to discuss new and prevalent issues on the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York Medical College (NYMC) and Touro College and University System (TCUS) faculty and leadership gathered virtually for the 12th COVID-19 Symposium on June 3 to discuss the ongoing pandemic including new information on approved vaccines and the policy surrounding them. Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., chancellor and chief executive officer of NYMC and provost for biomedical affairs at TCUS, moderated the presentations covering new insight into current COVID-19 related news.
“The pandemic keeps providing us with an additional twist and turns both in the biology of the virus and the public policy and the law,” Dr. Halperin said.
Robert Amler, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice and vice president for government affairs, presented “Will COVID- Ever End,” exploring whether COVID-19 would come to a complete stop or become a seasonal infectious disease. Dr. Amler explained that it is hard to tell at the moment but will become more apparent as mask mandates are lifted, schools are reopened and how changes in climate affect transmission. Dr. Amler showed a chart comparing COVID-19 to Influenza and Pertussis, or whooping cough, and how they are transmitted using R0 (pronounced R naught), a mathematical model used to indicate how contagious an infectious disease is and the average number of people who will contract a disease from one contagious person, patterns of infection and vaccinations and deaths per year. “It seems [the COVID-19 pandemic] will not completely end but we should stay calm, watch the trends and improvise,” Dr. Amler said.
The symposium pivoted to a presentation by Kathleen DiCaprio, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, which looked at the possible side effects of vaccines. Dr. DiCaprio presented the difference between side effects that can be attributed to the vaccine and coincidental adverse effects. The presentation took a look at the eight cases of Bell’s Palsy, a disease that causes muscle weakness in the face after a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine was administered and the 28 cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome in people, mostly women, who were given the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Dr. DiCaprio also dispelled some of the notions that vaccines caused infertility, that they alter DNA or that the vaccines contain a form of the virus.
Although vaccinations are meant to stop infections, there is still large amounts of research being done to find an effective, approved treatment, as Marisa A. Montecalvo, M.D., professor of medicine, discussed. Her presentation, “Convalescent Plasma, Vitamin D, Ivermectin, What Have We Learned?” broke down three possible treatments for COVID-19. Dr. Montecalvo spoke on how antibodies found in convalescent plasma were found to be safe and were given emergency authorization use to help hospitalized patients battling severe COVID-19 symptoms. Her presentation also showed that although vitamin D and Ivermectin have shown pockets of promise, there has still not been enough sample size for them to be approved by the National Institute of Health and other health governing bodies. “I think convalescent plasma is a very interesting area--the idea of giving neutralizing antibody but it needs to be high titer and early on, while we await further data to really understand if it is beneficial,” said Dr. Montecalvo.
The symposium shifted gears to the side of the pandemic that involves policies and legalities, led by Nicholas S. Janiga, Esq., vice president and chief legal counsel. Mr. Janiga’s presentation focused on educational institutions’ and employers’ power to mandate their students or employees to get an approved vaccine. Mr. Janiga explained that there a litany of policies that may not allow employers to force employees to get vaccinated in addition to any mandates by states that could make it illegal to do so.
The next presentation touched upon a current struggle in India. Padmini Murthy, M.D. M.P.H., FRSPH, professor of public health and global health director, presented, “What has Happened in India During the Pandemic and Why?” calling the COVID-19 situation in India a “catastrophe” and explained that the lack of funding from the government to the national health system has made it difficult for the nation to battle the pandemic. She also said that the price of necessary medications is skyrocketing, leaving only those with money with a chance at treatment, and an emerging problem of overworked healthcare workers being attacked by the families of those who have died from the virus. “This is such a sad situation because not only is it a public health issue, but it also highlights the social inequities and how the system has failed the residents,” Dr. Murthy said.
Dr. Halperin gave the final presentation of the symposium, “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer.” Dr. Halperin spoke of a patient who may have had his cancer caught earlier had his screening appointment not been delayed due to the pandemic. Dr. Halperin then used data to show how screenings and treatment dropped dramatically for the first five months of the pandemic, with one example of mammograms decreasing 85% in April 2020. According to Dr. Halperin, mortality in cancer patients could rise because many new patients could have had their cancers detected and treated sooner.
“Did it have to be this way? No.” Dr. Halperin said. “It shows what the impact is of an aggressive COVID-19 management policy was upon cancer.”
A robust question and answer session hosted by Alan Kadish, M.D., president of NYMC and TCUS rounded out the symposium. “I've said this at the end of every webinar. Perhaps this will be the last one. But I do not think we are quite there yet. We hope to see all of you, again, in a month or two, as we have more information on what hopefully is the winding down of the pandemic metrics in the United States, and in the world as a whole,” concluded Dr. Kadish.