By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Everybody is done with talking about COVID-19, but the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet. With the arrival of the Delta variant, continued cases and an unvaccinated population, for the moment, COVID is here to stay.
Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson is an obstetrics and gynecology specialist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Earlier this month, Benoit-Wilson, Dr. Cameron Webb and Dr. Rachel Villanueva joined together for a media briefing on COVID-19.
During an interview with the Milwaukee Courier, Benoit-Wilson discussed the Delta variant, the continued myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine and the important role health care workers provide.
When it comes to the Delta variant, the symptoms are fairly similar to the Alpha variant, Benoit-Wilson explained. A person may experience a fever, cough, shortness of breath and so on, but the difference is how fast it spreads.
“The Delta variant is similar to the Alpha variant, but what we’re seeing with the Delta variant is the onset of the symptoms are faster,” she said. “The difference is how contagious the Delta is.”
Other variants of COVID-19 exist, Benoit-Wilson explained, but not to the level of the Delta.
“What we’re seeing is that the virus is doing what viruses do – they change,” she said.
When an unvaccinated person is infected, the virus has the opportunity to continue to change, she explained. Furthermore, to achieve herd immunity and decrease the chance of further variants, the vaccination rate would have to be at 85%.
As of Wednesday, Aug. 25, at least 53% of the eligible population in Wisconsin is fully vaccinated, with at least 58% having received their first dose.
The Delta variant has encouraged more people to receive the vaccine, but there are many individuals who remain hesitant toward the vaccine.
In her experience, Benoit-Wilson found that individuals in impoverished communities were disappointed that it took something of this magnitude for people to pay attention to the inequities and disparities that they face on the daily. They feel that they were abandoned before, she said, and are questioning why they should trust this effort.
Other issues include the continued myths, which surround the vaccine. One myth is that this is new technology, when it’s not, she said. Another myth is that individuals who have had the virus will die or get sick if they get the vaccine.
The vaccine doesn’t give people COVID-19, Benoit-Wilson said, if someone had the virus and gets the vaccine they have a higher chance at a reaction to the shot, but its nothing that can’t be handled with over-the-counter medication. COVID-19 is worse than the reaction to the vaccine, she said.
“We’re fortunate to have in this country vaccines that are safe,” Benoit-Wilson said. “To see that our vaccine rates are not where they should be is disappointing.”
Still, Benoit-Wilson isn’t giving up. She and her fellow health care workers are doing the work to continue to spread awareness that the vaccine is safe for everybody including pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant.
At the moment, Benoit-Wilson and others are taking a one-on-one approach when it comes to individuals who remain hesitant. The data shows that people listen to their providers when it’s someone they chose and feel comfortable with, she said.
Health care workers are doing the work, she said, by continuing to have the conversations with individuals in their communities.