Dr. Gandhi talks dip in COVID-19 cases, lockdown measures and vaccine myths

The number of COVID-19 cases is showing signs of slowing across the region, but is it too soon to let our guard down?

CTV's Craig Momney speaks with the Past President of the Ontario Medical Association, Dr. Sohail Gandhi, about his thoughts.

Craig Momney: COVID-19 cases across the province are declining, what are you continuing to watch?

Dr. Gandhi: I'm not so much watching for the number of cases; I'm watching the number of people who are in hospital, and thankfully that number is starting to go down a little bit.

I'm watching the number of people who are in intensive care with COVID and the number of patients who are on a ventilator with COVID. Those numbers seem to be plateauing - they haven't started to go downwards yet, but they at least starting to be plateauing, and so those numbers give me a glimmer of hope going forward.

Craig Momney: Seeing those numbers that you're talking about in the hospital, how does that affect everyone right now?

Dr. Gandhi: So there's multiple effects to those numbers. Having a patient in the intensive care unit and on a ventilator is extremely what we refer to as resource intensive.

You need doctors, you need nurses, you need respiratory technicians, you need people to maintain the ventilators, you need cleaners to keep the room as clean as possible, and you need that service around the clock; you need that 24/7.

So very, very resource-intensive, and that pulls people away from other aspects of healthcare, and so if we get too many patients with COVID with those numbers, then we're going to be pulling even more people away from healthcare than we already are. And that's given the fact that we already have a situation where we have some physicians working as ICU nurses and some other allied healthcare staff working outside of their own field to help out.

Craig Momney: Simcoe Muskoka numbers are also on a downward trend. Are we making progress fast enough?

Dr. Gandhi: It's not going to be fast enough for my liking until we start ending some of the mandates. That's what I really want to see. I want to see an end to the stay-at-home mandate. I want to see an end to the mask mandate like everybody else does. I want to see an end to the social distancing mandate. But we are starting to go in the right direction.

Craig Momney: At what point do you think it would be safe to remove those mandates and start reopening again?

Dr. Gandhi: I would like to see the number of people who are immunized rise, and we still are struggling with the number of people who are immunized right now. That's because of a shortage of immunizations and short of vaccines, quite frankly. We need to get closer to 60, 65 per cent of the population with at least one shot, and we're not there yet.

I believe we're 81st in the world in terms of the number of people who have been fully vaccinated and 39th in the world in terms of the number of people who've had just the one shot.

So we need to get to the 60, 65, 70 per cent level of people immunized before we can see those mandates end.

Craig Momney: Speaking of vaccinations, people 18+ in hot spots can book an appointment for the vaccine starting today. Should everyone 18+ be allowed to book a shot?

Dr. Gandhi: Absolutely. We should be allowed to get everyone 18+, but the problem continues to be the lack of vaccines. We are in a situation where vaccines are in short supply. They were not ordered properly by the federal government, and certainly, the procurement by the federal government was not done well. And so we're in a situation where we have to ration the vaccines, and we have to ration and target the vaccines in areas that are hot spots and in the areas where's the most need; even though ideally we should be giving them to everyone over 16 actually Craig, not over 18, but over 16 because that's what the studies show us can safely be given.

Craig Momney: There are a lot of vaccine myths out there; what are some of the key ones that you are hearing?

Dr. Gandhi: The key ones that I'm hearing continue to be a lot of suspicion around how quickly the vaccine was developed. I keep trying to reinforce to people on a regular basis, look, this vaccine was developed in a safe manner, the short timeline that was involved were primarily because of the bureaucracy; we cut out a lot of the bureaucracy when it came to developing the vaccines.

If you look at all the other vaccines that have been developed over the past twenty years, they had just as much time, if not less time, in a clinical setting before they were approved for wider use for the general population, so that's the biggest myth that I continue to hear.

Craig Momney: Now do people who have gotten the shot shed vaccine, can they infect others?

Dr. Gandhi: There is no such thing for any vaccine; it doesn't matter whether it's the COVID vaccine, or the flu shot, or tetanus, or polio, there's no such thing as a vaccine that is 100 per cent effective.

COVID is very close, by the way. COVID is about the closest to being a hundred per cent as there is, but even that's not a hundred per cent effective.

What that means is, at the very least, you'll get a less severe case of the illness if you do get it, but you won't wind up in a hospital.

As far as shedding the vaccine, or something like that, that just doesn't fit with the science. As far as still being able to transmit the COVID disease if you happen to have the disease, yes, that is still possible after the first shot, much less so after the second shot.

Craig Momney: As a family doctor, what are you most worried about right now?

Dr. Gandhi: I am worried about a lot of things, unfortunately. It's hard to quantify that as just one thing. I'm extremely worried about the COVID situation simply because I don't want the health care resources to be so diverted that way. I'm getting progressively more and more concerned; I was concerned at the beginning. I'm getting more and more concerned about the mental health aspects of the pandemic, about the toll that it is taking on our children, about the toll that it is taking on families just being locked up for such a long period of time. And I'm very concerned about a lot of the misinformation that is out there. You read stories about this person who had COVID, and now their nose got bigger or some such thing, and it's just kind of nonsense, a lot of the misinformation that's out there.

What I would actually encourage people to do is if they've got legitimate questions about the COVID vaccines, and I know there are some legitimate questions out there; go to a reputable website like askontariosdoctors.ca. It's a website that's been set up by the Ontario Medical Association to answer those specific questions for the general public. Don't get your information from Facebook or WhatsApp, or something like that because most of that information, unfortunately, is just not valid.