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'Vaccinated people are a firewall' | Dr. Hussain talks vaccine safety and mask effectiveness

Dr. Syed Hussain answers questions about common concerns

HARTFORD, Conn — Questions abound in Connecticut as increased delta variant transmission, returning mask mandates and back to school anxiety make residents wonder: what is safe for me?

Dr. Syed Ahmed Hussain, senior vice president and chief clinical officer at Trinity Health of New England, answered questions Friday morning to address some of these common concerns.

The first was the issue of vaccine safety for pregnant women. Dr. Hussain said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has access to data from multiple registries, including one of over 140,000 pregnant women. The CDC then bases its safety guidelines on the data at its disposal. 

"In addition to other data points that have now come through which indicate what we've known all along for the non-pregnant age category, is that these vaccines continue to be highly effective and safe, including preventing complication in both the mother and the unborn baby," Hussain said. 

RELATED: CDC has new COVID vaccine recommendations for pregnant women

He recommends going to the CDC website to see the data that has been released on pregnancy-related studies for those who would like to see the numbers.

Another concern is the potential for long-term complications of any COVID-19 vaccine, whether from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. 

"One thing that people keep asking is, I'm going to wait this out, I'm gonna wait for the vaccine because I'm waiting for long-term complications," Hussain said. "It's important for viewers to understand long term complications are seen, if they're seen, within six to eight weeks from administration."

Vaccine administration began in December 2020, when the first-ever vaccination patient was given a Pfizer shot in the United Kingdom. It has been over eight months since then. Given Hussain's timeline, long-term complications would have been seen by now.

RELATED: Healthcare workers at Hartford Hospital receive first doses of COVID vaccine

In terms of pregnant women and babies, Hussain said they have not seen any complications for the mother or the newborn.

In answer to the question of FDA approval, Hussain said all age groups and categories must be studied before FDA approval. 

The CDC can't apply data points for adults to children -- each group must be studied individually for accuracy. Additionally, Hussain said there is no data yet from babies as they grow older on vaccine effectiveness.

Another common question, especially given the return of mask mandates in several Connecticut towns and cities, is the effectiveness of medical-grade masks versus fabric masks.

In a healthcare setting, Hussain said medical grades masks are essential given the close proximity to patients for extended periods of time.

In a general setting, he said, masking is one tool in a number of tools at people's disposal. This includes social distancing. Given distance, time spent in close proximity to others and the type of fabric used for the mask (thread count, thickness of material) fabric masks are still effective.

RELATED: These are the CT cities and towns that have issued new mask mandates

"Bottom line is, masking is really really important in this country right now because of substantial to high community transmission in most states and most counties," Hussain said.

RELATED: Middlesex County listed as area of 'high' transmission for COVID-19 by CDC

Before signing off, Hussain said he would share a glimmer of hope, which comes from data from the UK.

At the moment, Hussain said, the UK has no COVID restrictions, and 99% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

"What this tells us is this is a firewall. Vaccinated people are a firewall against this virus," Hussain said.

He advises people to get vaccinated, which will allow the country to avoid mutated strains and prolonged restrictions in the future.

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