FULL EPISODE: 11/21/21 Fmr. US Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo on new antiviral COVID pills

Published: Nov. 20, 2021 at 7:41 PM EST
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Dr. Jerome Adams, the former U.S. Surgeon General under President Donald Trump and current executive director of health equity initiatives at Purdue University, and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama, about COVID and the holiday season for Gray TV’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, November 21, 2021. The program will also feature a discussion with reporter Calvin Cutler of WCAX-TV in Burlington, Vermont on the recent spike in coronavirus cases in his state.

Dr. Jerome Adams predicted COVID rates would continue to rise over the winter months, saying “It’s no longer a matter of if we’re going to have a winter surge, it’s how bad it’s going to be.” The former surgeon general advised the public to “be careful this holiday season” and admitted he is planning to administer rapid coronavirus tests to unvaccinated visitors before they enter his home.

Adams also criticized U.S. current testing protocols, saying: “We don’t have a national testing strategy yet that I’ve seen articulated. And I don’t mean this to pick on the new administration. I mean that we really do need to, if we’re going to live with this virus, if we’re going to shift from pandemic to endemic, have a well communicated, well agreed upon, and easily accessible national testing strategy so that we can quickly identify cases and contain them … And right now that’s been a big deficit.”

The former surgeon general also weighed in on COVID in professional sports, saying he was “incredibly disappointed at what certainly seems like deception on the part of [Green Bay Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers ... but incredibly heartened at the high vaccination rates that the NFL has and the measures that they’re taking.”

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of the University of Alabama Division of Infection Diseases warned that “caution is still in order” as people travel this holiday season, saying even among the vaccinated and masked, there is still a risk of breakthrough infections and “you can still lose your sense of smell, you can lose your sense of taste, and you can get long COVID, too.”

Dr. Marrazzo told Van Susteren she is also concerned about the flu this winter, particularly in light of recent college outbreaks. “We had no influenza last year so I’m worried that if people get sick this year with it it may be even worse and more severe,” she said.

Dr. Jerome Adams and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo interview excerpts are below.

Dr. Jerome Adams Highlights

On whether people have let their guard down when it comes to protecting themselves from COVID

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

They haven’t gotten a little complacent Greta, they’ve gotten a lot complacent. And I want to use this opportunity with you and your audience to help people understand that when you look at cases, when you look at deaths, we are as bad as we’ve been for most of this pandemic. There’s only two other times during the course of this pandemic, we’ve had more cases than

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

We want them to get vaccinated, get boosted if you can. Be careful this holiday season. I’m using home testing. I was able to go around and get several home tests and the people who are coming to my house, they’re going to be vaccinated and boosted. And if they’re not, then I’m going to give them a rapid test to take before they come in to make sure we’re doing everything we can to be able to gather safely.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

We want people to enjoy themselves. We’ve got the tools for them to do it safely. Those tools are meaningless if we don’t use them.

On antivirals

Greta Van Susteren

What do you say to those that say, “Well, now I really don’t want the vaccine because Pfizer and Merck have both come out with an antiviral”?

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

I’m really excited about the oral antivirals, but here’s the caveats: Number one, the antivirals are worthless if you don’t have testing. And there was a recent Kaiser survey where they went out and tried to get rapid testing. They tried to get testing all throughout the community and only about a quarter of the time, about 25% of the time were they able to get a rapid test. So if you can’t get tested, then you can’t get treated. That’s number one.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Number two, we would much rather prevent disease. This is public health. This is medicine 101. I’d rather prevent you from getting cancer than treat your cancer. I’d rather prevent you from getting diabetes than to treat your diabetes with insulin. And we would much rather prevent you from getting COVID in the first place than to let you get COVID in the hope that you’re going to be in that percentage of people who gets tested in time, gets the pill in time. And for whom the pill works. That’s a lot of ifs that have to happen for that to be successful.

On the need for a national testing strategy

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

We don’t have a national testing strategy yet that I’ve seen articulated. And I don’t mean this to pick on the new administration. I mean that we really do need to, if we’re going to live with this virus, if we’re going to shift from pandemic to endemic, have a well communicated, well agreed upon, and easily accessible national testing strategy so that we can quickly identify cases and contain them so that we can get people monoclonal antibodies or oral antivirals if they do test positive so that we can detect new variants more quickly when they pop up. And right now that’s been a big deficit.

On vaccine hesitancy

Greta Van Susteren

I’m old enough to remember polio vaccines. Everybody was on board. Everyone got on board on that, but this is a, it really is almost shirts or skins. Which team are you on? And I mean, it really is a tough situation.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Well, we got dealt a bad hand when you had a pandemic superimposed on a presidential election, which was superimposed on top of a social justice movement, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the sixties. And there’s no doubt about that. But I would push back a little bit against something you said. If you look back over the history of vaccines, they’ve always been controversial. There’s always a group of people who push back. There’s always a group of people who say, “I don’t want this.” And there are bad people out there who’ve always throughout history preyed upon that mistrust. What we need to do is rebuild that trust.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

And the way we do it is with local trusted people. We really need to get doctors, pharmacists, nurses in communities, as part of our vaccine army, give them the tools, give them the knowledge and the resources they need. Because even people who say they mistrust the health system, they actually trust their doctor. They trust their pharmacist. This isn’t about me or Fauci or any of the people on a national level. It’s really about getting people to talk to their health providers so that they can get the facts, and hopefully they’ll get the vax along with the other mitigation measures that will help keep them safe.

On reframing the COVID conversation

Greta Van Susteren

You have been quoted as saying that you think we should reframe the conversation about COVID. What do you mean?

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Well, first of all, when we talk about vaccines and vaccine mandates, I think we need to reframe the conversation in terms of priorities that people have. Workplace safety to me is more attractive to the average person than a vaccine mandate in your workplace. We need to talk about reopening and having a safe holiday season this year without putting grandma in the hospital. That’s a lot more effective than shaming people about vaccines. I think there are ways that we can motivate people to do the things that will help keep them healthy instead of politicizing it, and instead of using public health tools as a bludgeon to try to attack people who we don’t like.

Greta Van Susteren

Have we dug ourselves in too deep though? Because people will say to you, “Well, you should get the vaccine in the breakthrough cases.” You said, “Don’t wear a mask and you say, wear a mask.” You say that it started at a wet market. Now it started in a lab. They’ve been told so many different things that they sort of throw it right back at you. Are we too late to reframe the conversation?

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Well, it’s a great question. And I think it’s not too late.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

I think what we need to do is help people understand what living with the virus actually looks like versus telling them it’s all going to go away, which both administrations did to the fault of the nation. And what living with this virus looks like is really getting enough people vaccinated, getting enough immunity that we can delink cases from hospitalizations and deaths.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

And we haven’t done that quite yet, but if we can do that and if we can get people tested, get people traced when there is a new set of cases, the same as we do for tuberculosis, for measles, then we can turn this into something very manageable.

On vaccine mandates, businesses, and professional sports

Greta Van Susteren

What about mandates for big business? President Biden wants businesses with over a hundred employees to mandate the vaccine.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Well, I’ve always said that mandates are an effective public health tool. We know that historically, but we’re in a world where there are social elements to this pandemic that we’ve not really experienced to this degree before. And we have to understand that you’ve got a lot of mistrust out there. And if you try to force a mandate on people without doing proper education and proper engagement, then what you can do is hurt your trust levels in the long run. So that’s what I’m worried about. What I say to businesses is, “Look, you need to make sure you’re asking your employee why they aren’t getting vaccinated. You need to make sure there’s ample opportunity for them to get their questions answered. And you need to help them understand how the mandate benefits the entire company and them. And it’s not just some political tool.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

People are always going to try to gain the system, but look at what the NFL and the NBA are doing. They know that they will lose millions upon millions of dollars if they don’t maintain a safe workplace. And they’ve actually done in my opinion, a heck of a job in terms of promoting vaccinations wherever they can. The players associations prohibit them from doing, from making a mandate, but they’ve mandated it for coaches, for officials, for other people in the facilities. But they’ve also, you heard the NFL say during this holiday season, they’re going to bring back masking.

Greta Van Susteren

Aaron Rodgers, sort of gamed it. And the NFL didn’t exactly come down particularly hard on Aaron Rodgers, who makes some fortune being a very successful quarterback. So you must have a thought about that.

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Well, I’m incredibly disappointed at what certainly seems like deception on the part of Aaron Rodgers.

Greta Van Susteren

So are many shareholders ...

Dr. Jerome Adams, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Exactly. But you also look at Ben Roethlisberger this week. These teams are losing games. Both teams, the way the Packers and the Steelers weren’t able to get a win after they lost their quarterbacks. That goes back to the fact that there’s a competitive advantage, there’s an economic advantage to having a safe workplace. Roethlisberger, to his credit, was vaccinated. But again, whenever you’ve got a virus circulating in the community, you’ve got to take multiple layers into effect in order to keep yourselves safe. And so I’m disappointed in Rogers, but incredibly heartened at the high vaccination rates that the NFL has and the measures that they’re taking. And I hope more businesses look at this, not from a sports perspective, but from a business perspective, and know that keeping your workplace safe, that helps your bottom line.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo Highlights

On antivirals

Greta Van Susteren

There’s the big news, the antiviral pill like Tamiflu with the flu. Merck has one, and now Pfizer has one. We’re waiting for action by the FDA, but what do these antiviral pills do?

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

Right. So, these are probably the most exciting things we’ve had on the horizon since the vaccine. They’re very different pills.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

The Merck pill works by messing up the RNA of the virus. It literally throws a brick equivalent into the structure of the RNA as it’s replicating … So, it shuts down the ability of the virus to replicate its RNA. It works pretty well.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

The Pfizer drug, in contrast, lets the virus do its thing with the genetics stuff, the code, but when it’s assembling the proteins and it’s coming out of the cell it disrupts its ability to do that, so it’s later in the cycle.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

One key thing to both of those is that they need to be taken pretty quickly, within three to days of symptoms just like Tamiflu, you want to have them accessible if you start to get sick and you know you have COVID and take them.

On the Delta variant versus the original coronavirus strain

Greta Van Susteren

The Delta variant, it’s the one we hear about now, is taking the globe by storm. That’s the only one that you hear about now. Whatever happened to the original COVID virus? It’s as though Delta has taken over. Is the first one gone?

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

The first one is still out there. I think you could find it if you looked hard enough but the vast majority, well over 95% in almost everywhere that’s tracking this, is now Delta, or some emerging new variants.

Greta Van Susteren

But what happened to it? Why can’t we do to Delta what we’ve apparently done to the other virus?

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

Because we don’t have the tools that Delta has, right? It’s all about who has the best weapons and Delta has the ultimate weapons, which is the ability to mutate, so what it’s done, you’re seeing in real-time, evolution survival of the fittest in terms of the virus perspective, right? Because it’s basically pushed everything out by being so much better at transmitting that just think of it like taking up all the real estate, which is people’s respiratory tract, right?

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

So, it’s just so good at getting into people, infecting them, which is why it went crazy this summer and it’s still doing that in some places. And so, the alpha variant, which was the original, was just pushed off the stage because it was wimpy compared to this. Who would’ve thought that given what we saw with the alpha variant?

On booster shots

Greta Van Susteren

Can you keep getting boosters? Is there any point of no return? Can you get a booster now, and then six months later, and keep doing this forever or is there a point of no return?

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

There probably is no point of no return. Think about the flu shot, right? People get the flu shot every year.

Greta Van Susteren

But it’s a slightly different virus every year--

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

Absolutely, absolutely. So the question is going to be, there’s really two big questions with this need for ongoing boosters. One is the more boosters you have are you going to reduce the time it takes for immunity to wane, so if you get your third booster are you going to have a decline in your antibodies by six months, which is what we’re seeing after the second booster. Maybe it will be eight months. Maybe it will be nine months. We don’t really know.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

The second variable, of course, is the emergence of the variants and making sure we have boosters that can cover those variants.

On COVID and the holidays

Greta Van Susteren

Let me ask you, do you feel comfortable going into a crowded airport, traveling at Thanksgiving, or your family traveling through these airports? Where are we?

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

So, I feel comfortable wearing a mask traveling through airports. I think that there is still a risk of, albeit less severe, infections, but I don’t really want to get even a breakthrough infection because you can still lose your sense of smell, you can lose your sense of taste, and you can get long COVID too, which I definitely don’t want to get.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

So, I think the caution is still in order. The other concern I have is we’re starting to see influenza. There’s an outbreak right now at the University of Michigan in college students. We’re seeing it here in unvaccinated students, and so we had no influenza last year so I’m worried that if people get sick this year with it it may be even worse and more severe.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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