Indian American health experts educate community on covid-19

GOPIO Covid pane: Panelists, From top left clockwise, Dr. Arnab Ghosh, Dr. Sunanda Gaur, Dr. Monika Shah and Dr. Madhury (Didi) Ray
GOPIO-Manhattan Covid-19 Panelists, From top left clockwise, Dr. Arnab Ghosh, Dr. Sunanda Gaur, Dr. Monika Shah and Dr. Madhury (Didi) Ray

GOPIO organizes zoom discussion on how to keep safe during pandemic.

What is Covid-19? How to prevent the spread of Covid-19? How effective are the vaccines to prevent Covid-19? Who should get the vaccine and what do we know of its safety?

To answer such questions about the  most-deadly viruses in a century that has claimed millions of lives, impacting nearly every aspect of human life around the globe, a leading community organization held a Zoom panel discussion recently.

Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Manhattan Chapter organized the discussion in collaboration with the Indian Consulate in New York on Jan 15, according to a media release.

India’s Consul General in New York, Randhir Jaiswal, spoke about India’s plans to vaccinate 300 million people, roughly equal to the US population, in what may be the world’s largest vaccination campaign.

The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers to be followed by 270 million others, who are either aged over 50 or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to the Coronavirus.

Praising two India-based pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing the vaccines in record time, Jaiswal said, “We will be sharing our vaccines with other countries who need. It gives us pride that we can share our scientific knowledge with the world.”

Dr. Arnab Ghosh, a physician in Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) specializing in adult bone marrow transplantation and an immunologist, moderated the lively session, with three expert panelists, who are in the front line, working towards mitigating the challenges posed by Covid-19 in New York.

“While admitting that “we do not have answers to many questions to Covid-19 that has changed our lives in all possible ways,” he said, “There is no magic wand to destroy fully the virus yet.”

Dr. Monika Shah, an infectious diseases specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) said, “Food is not a transmitter of the virus, while shared common surfaces could be a transmitter.”

Stressing the need for wearing masks, she said,“Studies have proved that masks help prevent the spread of the virus. N95 mask provides greater prevention, regular mask is good and we should use it in public.”

On the prevalence and impact of Covid-19, Dr. Shah said, “Variability of symptoms is staggering and astonishing. While 80% might do well with Covid-19 symptoms, 20% percent need treatment, and 15% requiring hospitalization, and nearly 5% percent of those diagnosed positive face critical conditions.”

Dr. Shah explained the differences between the vaccines created in India and in the US, stating that both versions are meant to generate antibodies against viral components to protect from the virus.

In the ones available in the US mRNA that codes proteins are used while the other version viral proteins are produced and used to vaccinate.

In none of these versions, any viral particles are injected and the vaccines are completely virus-free and known to be very effective, in combating even new variants of the virus, she said.

Dr. Sunanda Gaur, Professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) and Director of its Clinical Research Center, educated the audience on “Covid-19 among kids.”

“The good news is that children in general do well with this virus.  Most children were spared from it and they are not normally tested for the virus.”

“It is safer to send kids to school,” Dr. Gaur said noting, “Children are not the drivers of the virus. Kids over 10 years of age are more likely to transmit than the younger children.”

“When the rate of infection in the community is lower, schools can be opened. Schools are not known to be spreaders.”

“It is safer if all procedures are followed in schools and that it is safer to send kids to school. While education is remote, stress in family is higher,” she said.

On the question of breast feeding by Covid-19 mothers, Dr. Gaur said, “Virus is not in the milk. Pregnant women do not transmit the virus to newborn children. Mother needs to breast feed safely. But she needs to isolate from other kids and family members.”

Dr. Madhury Ray, who works at the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, explained why Covid-19 is more deadly than prior pandemics.

“We are seeing more travel and interaction than ever before in human history. You create a situation where a virus with mutation has the ability to infect human beings,” she said.

“Close proximity between people has increased infection. Travel hubs like Wuhan and New York have become epic-centers of the transmission and spread of the virus,” Dr. Ray noted.

Noting all tests are free in New York City, she emphasized that one need not be concerned about one’s citizenship or immigration status and these facilities are accessible to all the members of the community. “What is important is to do the test.”

Highlighting the slow but expanding access to the vaccination program in New York City, she pointed to several web resources where the closest points of distribution of the vaccine can be found.

“We do not know how long the immunity from the vaccine lasts. Until herd immunity is achieved, we need to be cautious even after vaccine.”

Earlier, welcoming the participants, Dr. Asha Samant, International Coordinator-at-Large of GOPIO International, described the current situation created by the pandemic as “a dark period in human history.”

GOIO Manhattan president Shivender Sofat and vice president Dr. Vimal Goyle urged Indian Americans to support its initiatives like the monthly Community Feeding initiative as volunteers or sponsors.

Noting New York City was “the worst hit in the country in the beginning, and is still reeling with the impact of the pandemic,” Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman of GOPIO-International thanked Dr. Arnab Ghosh for coordinating the panel discussion.

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