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Treating and Defeating COVID-19

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Laura Zabriskie

January 28, 2021
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been happening for almost a year, there is still much to learn about the disease and how to defeat it. Karoll Cortez, MD, MHS, FACP, Infectious Disease physician at GBMC Health Partners, participated in WBAL Radio’s Coronavirus Townhall to talk about COVID-19 treatment, vaccines, and the new variants of the virus being found around the world.

Treatment for COVID-19 has evolved rapidly throughout the course of the pandemic. “It’s a very unpredictable virus,” said Dr. Cortez, “which means that clinicians have had to learn how to treat patients on the fly.” With more time and data have come new insights into the kinds of people being hospitalized and how best to treat them. “We’re seeing more young people being hospitalized – both with and without comorbidities,” Dr. Cortez described. “It’s no longer predominantly older people.”

Patients typically require hospitalization because of low levels of oxygen in their blood, which can make breathing difficult and result in lung damage. Recovery can be a slow process because lung damage makes patients more susceptible to other infections like bacterial pneumonia. Dr. Cortez acknowledged that rehospitalizations do occur sometimes, but assured listeners they are predominantly caused by other complicating infections, not reinfection with COVID-19. Advancements in treatment such as administering steroids to patients earlier have substantially helped with patient recovery. “I believe that this has truly helped improve survival,” she expressed.

The conversation then shifted to vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines are still in short supply, and the public has many questions about the vaccination process. Much of the confusion has centered around the need to receive multiple doses. Both vaccines that have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Pfizer and Moderna – require two doses for a person to be fully immunized against COVID-19. Dr. Cortez clarified that people need to get both doses from the same manufacturer. “Studies have only been done for each vaccine individually,” she said. “We don’t have any data on mixing the two.”

There has also been concern about side effects from receiving the vaccine. While experiences vary, many people have side effects such as muscle aches, fatigue, chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms should subside within 48 hours. Dr. Cortez explained that side effects are the result of your body’s immune system learning how to fight the virus. They may be unpleasant, but symptoms are a sign that the vaccine is doing its job.

Regarding new variants of the virus, Dr. Cortez explained that most of the data about them is coming out of the United Kingdom, which has a different method of reporting data than the United States does. “We’re not sure if we can interchange that information,” she said, “we’re still learning a lot about this. It is possible that new variants are easier to transmit, but we don’t know that they are more lethal.”

Viruses evolve naturally, so the emergence of new variants was expected by experts. The possibility that they are more transmissible highlights the continued importance of safety precautions such as mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing. There is no evidence that the current vaccines will be less effective against new variants.

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and GBMC’s vaccination process, visit
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