Amarillo health leader speaks about COVID variant, vaccine effects – Amarillo Globe-News

Dr. Brian Weis, Chief Medical Officer for Northwest Texas Healthcare System, spoke about the state of COVID-19 in Amarillo, new variants, and the spread of misinformation on the vaccine that has spread on social media.
In the last Amarillo public health report for COVID-19, there were 414 new cases and one new death from COVID-19, which brought the current active cases for the community to 1,577. In Amarillo, according to the report, there are 21 current hospitalizations from COVID-19, with three in the ICU and 67% of those admitted being unvaccinated. In total, there have been 1,319 COVID-19 deaths, and since August 2021, 81% of the deaths were unvaccinated individuals.
Weis said that over the last few weeks of 2022, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have had a greater impact on the healthcare system of Amarillo, but COVID-19 has been a constant concern that is still impacting residents of the Texas Panhandle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects that XBB.15 will be the predominant virus entering the new year. Its latest report states that 43% of new cases in the United States are the new variant. XBB.1.5, an Omicron variant, is currently the most transmissible variant. It is a variant of XBB, which was first detected in October and a combination of two other Omicron subvariants.
Current studies suggest that the current variant is more immune evasive than previous strains of COVID-19, which suggests that vaccines and natural immunity may not be as effective against infection. Still, the vaccine will most likely prevent serious illness and hospitalization due to its effects. Much like each previous mutation, this variant is seen as more rapidly transmissible among the population.
“We are getting no more than 3 to 5 percent of our daily respiratory panels tests as positive for COVID-19 at this time,” Weis said.
He said that COVID-19 had been a constant but low presence in his hospital, but he is seeing that fewer people need critical care for the virus. He said that the majority of cases the hospital is seeing are omicron, and to this point, none have been the newest variant XBB.1.5.
Weis said that he was concerned with the reports of the new variant being very resistant to natural immunity. He said to this point that COVID-19 had been reduced to minor hospitalization in the area, and the new variant’s impact with its immune evasiveness could very much change the scenario.
Asked about public concerns over the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, Weis said that he had seen no data or issues in the area that suggest there is a safety issue with the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There have been no deaths that I know of in my hospital from reactions to the vaccine,” Weis said. “Certainly, we always worry about people having an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine, but that is no different if people eat the wrong food or are stung by a bee. You are always going to have those individuals that will have their immune system respond to the introduction of a vaccine or those similar interactions.”
News and related conversations swelled after the teams and crowd were stunned when Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during a game at Cincinnati. And some of those conversations involved heart issues and vaccines. When asked about the danger of longterm heart issues and the spread of misinformation circulating about athletes dying suddenly being related to the vaccine, Weis expressed frustration with incidents being speculated on without any actual data to support the causation from vaccines.
“It is frustrating because what happened to that Buffalo Bills player is a well-described event that is rare, thankfully. It would seem to be a condition or an event known as commotio cordis.” Weis said. “This can be a phenomenon in which a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes sudden death without cardiac damage. The way he went down, he may have received a hit that gave the amount of energy that may have caused that to happen.”
Speaking on concerns of myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle that can reduce the ability of the heart to pump blood from the vaccine, Weis said that while the initial introduction of the vaccine can cause an incidence of this, he has seen no evidence beyond it being a transient event that does not cause a longterm issue in athletes or others who are given the vaccine.
He said that like when anything is introduced into the body, there is a possibility for interaction, but overall he has seen no long-term issues in the vast majority of those who have received the vaccine. He said that he had seen much greater long-term effects with issues such as myocarditis from those who had to be hospitalized from a COVID-19 infection.
Weis said that concerns over the vaccine not being fully vetted before being utilized in the fight against COVID-19 are overwrought, since mRNA has been researched extensively for the past half-century and has been in the works for the past decade to combat influenza as a way to give rapid response to everchanging flu variants. He said that much of that research was being used to make responses to flu variants with less guesswork on what will be the predominant strain.
“While true this is a unique vaccine in which we have used our cells to make form the protein from the virus that stimulates the immune system to counter COVID-19, it is an intervention where we deliver some representative of an infectious agent to stimulate an immune response,” Weis said.
Weis said that he still encourages those unvaccinated to get the vaccine and boosters. He also advised people to take standard precautions to reduce infection.
“If people have concerns, then they should speak with their doctor to make an informed decision and not rely on social media to make important medical decisions,” Weis said.