Town Hall with UF Health Screen, Test & Protect Director Michael Lauzardo

Last Thursday, more than 500 faculty and staff joined UF Health Screen, Test & Protect Director Michael Lauzardo, M.D., M.Sc., for a town hall designed to answer questions about COVID-19 vaccinations, the delta variant and more. If you were unable to attend, you can find answers to many of the questions posed during the town hall here.

How long should I wait after I had COVID to get the vaccine?
The CDC recommends you wait at least two weeks before you get the vaccine. I prefer if people wait four weeks because it gives the body extra time to fully recover from COVID before getting the shot.

What is the body’s degree of immunity against COVID from contracting the virus versus getting the vaccine?
Evidence shows that vaccine immunity is not only better, but it lasts longer. Lately, we’re seeing more reinfections from people who just had naturally acquired antibodies versus the vaccine. A study showed that individuals with a natural infection who also got vaccinated seem to have the strongest immunity. This doesn’t mean you should go out and get sick, risking yourself and those around you. Remember, you get very good protection with the two doses of the mRNA vaccine.

Will the flu vaccine be different this year, and should we still get it?
There was essentially no flu season last year; we have masking and hand washing to thank for that. Currently, we don’t anticipate the flu season to get stronger, and getting the COVID vaccine should not stop you from also getting the flu vaccine. We very much encourage you to get both vaccines.

Will people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine need booster shots?
Johnson & Johnson wanted to position its vaccine as a single-dose one, and that is how it was approved. In terms of effectiveness, it’s in the 80%-plus range. The vaccine seems to have been quite effective. There are blood clotting events associated with this vaccine as well as AstraZeneca’s, which have caused concern. But the risk for this is extremely low. Right now, we recommend women 18-50 get one of the mRNA vaccines to avoid these risks. There is no clear recommendation about boosters for those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The CDC is likely to come out with recommendations for boosters in the coming month. While boosters might not be necessary for everyone, people who are immunocompromised and elderly are likely to need them.

When can 5- to 12-year-olds get the vaccine?
Most likely by January.

Should parents take precautions around their home with children who can’t get the vaccine?
If there are no symptoms and no one is sick, there is no need to wear a mask inside of your own home. Monitor your children for symptoms and, if they develop them, get them tested for the virus. As always, talk to your doctor about your specific situation and what you can do to keep your children safe.

Should people going through chemotherapy get the vaccine?
Patients who are going through chemo treatment should get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about timing.

I’ve heard about vaccines being adulterated with unlabeled ingredients. Is this true?
There are very sophisticated disinformation campaigns that are spreading these false claims. There is nothing in the vaccine that shouldn’t be in the vaccine. They are safe and help protect you, like any other vaccine.

Can the vaccine change your DNA?
No, it cannot. The RNA in the vaccine never touches your DNA. It delivers a message to your cells so that your body starts to make the protein needed for your antibodies. It doesn’t mix with your DNA in any shape or form.

I’ve heard some people in the medical field won’t get the vaccine because they think it will create proteins that cause cancer. Is this true?
This is another rumor that is part of the disinformation campaigns going around in social media. This doesn’t have any bearing in truth or reality. In terms of the proteins, that is the “message” your body gets to create the antibodies — but doesn’t alter or stay in your body. The vaccine does not cause cancer. Other vaccines work in a similar manner.

Can you please discuss the most recent information regarding vaccine-related issues, such as heart enlargement, for teenage years? I want to have my 12-year-old son vaccinated but am frightened by potential long-term side effects.
One of the rare side effects for young people is myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. What was actually found was that myocarditis rarely occurs in people who were vaccinated. We’ve actually seen more instances of myocarditis in people infected with COVID than in those who got the vaccine. There is a bigger benefit in getting the vaccine than getting COVID.

Are pregnant women more at risk of contracting the Delta variant?
No, but they are at risk of greater complications from the virus. The CDC recommends that pregnant women get vaccinated. The risks of the virus far outweigh the benefits.

Can the virus pass through a mask?
No. The virus floats on the droplets we produce when we breathe. These droplets are microscopic — if you put a mirror in front of your face when you talk, it will fog up from these droplets. COVID exists and is transmitted through these droplets. Masks keep those droplets contained and keep us and those around us safe. Masks are not perfect but are an extremely valuable part of our protection.

What about the breakthrough cases we keep hearing about?
People who got COVID after getting vaccinated are not getting as sick as the unvaccinated. When you look at the big picture, the amount of protection from the vaccine helps you fight the virus.

Should vaccinated people go unmasked in outdoor gatherings?
This is a personal choice. In general, wear a mask indoors to keep yourself safe. If you’re outside and you feel comfortable, then it is your choice to take it off. Spread of the virus outdoors is extremely uncommon.

What can we do if our children are going to a daycare where kids and caregivers keep getting sick?
The Delta variant has been harder on younger kids. While we would hope caregivers get vaccinated, unfortunately, we are not in a state where this can be mandated. Talk to your pediatrician about what is best for you and your family.

How can we stop new variants from forming?
Get vaccinated. The more the virus spreads, the more variants we’ll have. The best way to stop this is to get vaccinated.

Can you explain the monoclonal antibody treatment and how can patients get it?
It is a very effective treatment that can be used in certain circumstances. Thus far, we’ve reserved it for individuals who are in the early stages of COVID. Doctors usually refer COVID patients to get the treatment. People interested in the treatment can call the COVID hotline for assistance in getting the treatment.

What is the controversy surrounding Invermectin?
There is no controversy. This is not a COVID treatment.

What are the protocols after exposure to someone with COVID?
An individual is considered exposed to COVID when they spend 15 minutes or more indoors and within 6 feet of a sick person. After exposure, you will need to quarantine. To end the quarantine, you will need to get tested on day 7 and, if you’re clear, you can come out of quarantine on day 8.

Do you need to quarantine if you’re vaccinated and were exposed to COVID?
If you’ve been exposed and are vaccinated, at the present time you are not withheld from campus. If we start seeing breakthrough cases on campus, this might change.

What is happening in our area hospitals?
Roughly 5% of the cases in the hospital are young people, but the key characteristic of most hospitalizations is that they consist of unvaccinated people — 95% of people in the hospital are unvaccinated.

What precautions should we take when we travel?
Get tested before you go. If possible, you should wear an N95 masks while traveling until we get over this bump with the Delta variant.