Welcome to Season 2, Episode 21 of Meet the Expert® with Elliot Kallen!
In this episode, Elliot Kallen brings on Dr. Bill Lloyd, Health Director at Transamerica, to discuss what we can expect with COVID in the U.S. this winter.
Meet Our Guest
Dr. Bill Lloyd
Health Director, Transamerica
Dr. Bill Lloyd serves as Transamerica Advanced Markets Group’s inaugural Health Director. An experienced clinician and award-winning medical educator, Dr. Lloyd is respected within the medical community as a dynamic leader and subject matter expert. Dr. Lloyd shares his insights and common-sense approach to better living as a key contributor to Transamerica’s New Age of Advice.
What will life after COVID look like?
Elliot Kallen: We’re coming to the end of COVID as a pandemic. Can you give us an update on what to expect in the coming months?
Dr. Bill Lloyd: We’re in a transition right now. The viral outbreak is actually coming under control, and we’re transitioning from a pandemic disease to an endemic disease. Most experts think COVID-19 is going to be with us forever, just like the common cold and the seasonal flu.
Currently, there are no new viral strains on the horizon. If that is the case, then this will maintain a pandemic of the unvaccinated — people getting seriously sick, and dying from COVID-19, will simply be those that don’t have the immune capacity to fight the disease.
Globally, there are nearly a quarter-billion people who’ve been infected by COVID-19 and roughly 7.5 million deaths. In the U.S., there have been 47 million confirmed cases — of that, fewer than 20 percent have gotten sick.
But here’s the issue: many people harbor the COVID-19 virus and never get sick, but pass it on to others. COVID-19 has an incubation period of 5 to 7 days. Conversely, if someone with the flu comes in contact with you, you may develop a fever and headache as soon as tomorrow.
If you have COVID-19, it may take up to 5 days to show symptoms. Meanwhile, your body reproduces the virus and you can potentially transmit the virus to many others. That’s why, even if you’re vaccinated and boosted and feel great, you still need to wear your mask and practice social distancing to protect everyone else who may contract COVID-19 from you — even though you never got sick!
COVID-19 is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Here in the U.S., there is a 7-day rolling average of 83,000 cases of COVID-19 per day. There are about 41,000 Americans who’ve been hospitalized for COVID-19 to this day, and the vast majority of them are unvaccinated. Over 99 percent of COVID deaths in hospitals are among the unvaccinated.
What to look out for
In the early stages of COVID-19 infection, you may not feel any symptoms. The virus populates in your mouth and nose, with no direct contact with the blood system, before days 5-8, when the symptoms start to turn serious for unvaccinated folks.
Note that the new Delta variant is very tricky and very capable of reproducing hundreds of millions of copies of that virus in the first 3 to 4 days before the bug finally enters your body.
At that point, if you’ve previously had COVID or been vaccinated, your body will likely destroy the virus.
However, for those first 5 days, you could be giving COVID to people because you are a carrier of the virus.
Myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines
This draws us to the discussion of the vaccine: What is it supposed to do?
The vaccine will not prevent you from getting the infection. The purpose of the vaccine is to:
- Reduce transmission of the disease,
- Mitigate the symptoms if you do become infected,
- Reduce the risk of hospitalization, and
- Reduce the risk of death
The purpose of the COVID vaccine is to protect you, boost your immune system, reduce the chance of severe illness, and reduce your ability to pass it onto other people.
All the approved vaccines in the U.S. are about 88% to 95% effective. When you get a booster, you’ll have even higher protection. There are no vaccines with 100% efficacy, but we’re getting close.
In states like Vermont (with nearly three-quarters of the population vaccinated), they experience new cases (i.e., positive tests) of COVID-19, and more every day — but the number of hospitalizations and deaths has stayed flat because most people were vaccinated.
In states like Colorado (about 50% vaccinated), they also have rising case counts, along with rising hospitalizations and deaths because so many people are not vaccinated. As long as the Delta variant has one more person to infect, it will continue spreading.
69% of the U.S. population, or 226 million Americans, have already had at least their first shot. You need to get that second shot within 28 days of the first one, or you’ll need to start the sequence all over again.
86% of Americans over the age of 65 have been fully vaccinated, and 95% of Americans over 65 have had at least their first shot. This was the highest at-risk population for the outbreak a year ago.
80% of Americans who died from COVID were age 60 or older. Many of them were in residential, assisted living, or skilled nursing care facilities. Others had multiple health problems — comorbidities, or having more than one chronic condition, lead to a recipe for disaster.
With winter coming, a lot of people are finally embracing the message. Right now the pace has picked up on vaccinations across the country — we’re seeing 800,000 new injections every day. (A month ago, it was less than 30,000 per day.)
Globally, they’ve given out 7.5 billion injections so far. But the data shows that the 3 best products are the ones approved by our FDA — the mRNA vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All of them are relying on booster shots for those 4-6 months out from the second shots.
Tell us more about natural immune protection.
Elliot Kallen: If you are unvaccinated and have recovered from COVID, is that as good as being vaccinated?
Dr. Bill Lloyd: If you are unvaccinated and have recovered from COVID, you have natural immunity. However, the quality, intensity, and duration of that immunity are different than the man-made vaccines, which are specifically designed to ramp up your immune system.
It all comes down to neutralizing antibodies. When you gain immunity from having COVID-19, your body makes a good supply of these antibodies — but they peak after 60 days. When you’re 3-5 months out from your recovery, you don’t have much protection.
If you complete the series of vaccines, whether Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson, then you’re going to have a quick rise in those neutralizing antibodies and they’re going to stay there for at least a year. If you get the booster, you’ll develop an even higher tier of protection — more antibodies that can respond more quickly.
When can we start traveling again?
Elliot Kallen: Our clients want to travel. They want to travel in planes, jets, and cruise ships. When does that world open up for us again?
Dr. Bill Lloyd: The world is open now. Just last week, they’ve opened all the pathways in and out of the U.S. for U.S. citizens.
If you’re flying by plane, be sure to verify COVID-19 travel regulations with the airline beforehand. For instance, Hawaii requires travelers to quarantine for 10 days. Planes are flying at full capacity, and we should all practice mask-wearing and social distancing as much as possible.
You should also familiarize yourself with the rates of COVID-19 infection in your destination. For instance, if you’re planning to travel to Germany, you should be aware of the big outbreak of the Delta variant right now. Germany is seeing its highest case numbers of the pandemic. When coupled with the rampant anti-vax sentiment, Germany may be a country to avoid for the time being.
If you’re boarding a cruise ship, understand that COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters onboard, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high.
If you’re sailing from the U.S., you must have the following:
- Your final dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before the beginning of the cruise
- Proof of vaccination
- Proof of a negative viral COVID-19 test taken within 2 days of your embarkation
Cruiseliners will continue testing passengers on the cruise every 5 to 7 days. Expect to wear a face mask in certain areas of the ship.
Are masks here to stay?
Elliot Kallen: We’ve seen on again/off again mandates for masks, and certain cities and states are less stringent about mask-wearing than others. What should we expect when it comes to wearing masks?
Dr. Bill Lloyd: As COVID-19 becomes endemic in the U.S., barring another strain, we’ll be able to loosen precautions.
If there is another strain by the time winter is over, we’ll be notified to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds.
Eventually, we’ll reach herd immunity (90% of Americans must already have been vaccinated or survived the virus) — and the virus will have no place to go.
Why invest in the healthcare sector post-pandemic?
Elliot Kallen: How should Advisors approach the healthcare investment conversation with our clients?
Dr. Bill Lloyd: Discovery never stops. Whether it’s diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or cancer, discovery never stops. We were locked into a paradigm for the last 40 years about how vaccines were made, and after the rush to develop the first COVID-19 vaccine in a record 8 months, that paradigm has been turned on its head.
People will be rushing into R&D for vaccine development, and there’s an enormous financial reward. Every day, there’s a new molecule introduced. This applies to every domain within health care — targeted chemotherapies, organ transplantation, visual restoration — it will never end. 5 years from now, 70% of cancers will be curable because of these wonderful therapies.
How does somebody successfully track that? You can chase a litany of small biotech companies, but eventually, they’ll be acquired by the bigger companies. For those looking for long-term results, stay with the major recognizable brands and you’ll be perfectly positioned.