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Ask the Doctors: Where we're at with COVID rates and vaccines, and how much to worry about monkeypox

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A vial of monkeypox vaccine. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A vial of monkeypox vaccine. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Omicron variant BA.5 now accounts for more than half of all new COVID infections in Massachusetts.

Plus, the disease monkeypox has been found in the state. For the latest on the numbers, and whether we should be alarmed, we turned to the experts in another edition of "Ask the Doctors."

Dr. Benjamin Linas, infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center, and Dr. Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, joined Radio Boston to answer your questions.

Below are highlights from their conversation, which have been lightly edited.

Interview Highlights

On how COVID infection rates are going up, but death rates are not:

Linas: "I think part of the reason that we're able to see this decoupling of the curves is because we do have a lot of protection, both from vaccination and from past infection... It's likely true that as viruses evolve, they also change their virulence pattern. And while we tend to think of mutations as being something scary ... if you think about it evolutionarily, if you're a virus, a great thing to do is to become more contagious but actually a little bit less virulent because then you keep hosts alive for longer and you have more people to infect."

On people who have been reinfected with COVID:

Vazquez: "It's hard to give some encouragement to patients that have had that disease, and they're like, 'OK, I had it once and I'm fully vaccinated and up to date,' when we know it's still possible that you could get a reinfection in a matter of a couple of months after having been infected and vaccinated. I think the good news is that we we are keeping up with the virus as best as we can and that we do have tools like vaccine and treatment to help and and control symptoms, but also help with prevention."

On speaking to those who haven't been vaccinated against the coronavirus:

Vazquez: "Certainly, if there are medical or other specific reasons why this particular vaccine is contraindicated, that's something each individual should openly discuss with their health care provider ... I think that it's [about] maintaining that open dialog. I do talk a lot about vaccines and advocate for it as the medical director for the vaccine clinic up here at Tufts, but I also understand that there are patients for whom this vaccine is not indicated, for certain medical reasons... So I think it's talking through those points and making sure that you continue to reassess that decision."

On how concerned to be, on a scale of one to five, about monkeypox:

Linas: "I suppose we're somewhere around the three. I think it is time to be aware and to be talking about this. Monkeypox is a real thing... It's not a new virus. It's been around for a long time ... this version of the virus is a little different than what we've seen in the past … It’s not, at this point, a generalized epidemic that's spreading to the grocery store the way we saw COVID spreading at grocery stores two years ago. But we know that the virus does have the potential for airborne spread, although it seems that for whatever reason, this variant that's spreading in the community today seems less likely to be spreading by airborne transmission.”

This article was originally published on July 12, 2022.

This segment aired on July 12, 2022.

Tiziana Dearing Twitter Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

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Maya Shwayder Twitter Freelance Producer, Radio Boston
Maya Shwayder is a freelancer producer for WBUR's Radio Boston.

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