August 10, 2021

Saag and Goepfert give updates on Delta variant, hospitalizations, and vaccinations in COVID-19 panel

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Saag headshotMichael Saag, M.D.On Monday, Aug. 9, Paul Goepfert, M.D., director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic, and Michael Saag, M.D., professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, discussed the current state of COVID-19 in Alabama and beyond in a webinar panel.

The panel is part of a more extensive series hosted by the School of Medicine called “What’s new with COVID-19?” in which infectious disease experts give the most current updates on the Delta variant, hospitalizations, and vaccinations in an informal setting.

Alabama health care providers and physicians attended Monday’s installment of the series. While the experts discussed COVID-19 through a patient care lens, several helpful facts and guidelines were mentioned relevant to the entire public. Watch it here.

COVID-19 in Alabama

The current state of COVID-19 in Alabama and the more expansive southeastern region is mimicking the status of early 2021, prior to vaccine availability. From March to June this year, cases calmed due to vaccine availability and effectiveness.

But, as the Delta variant has swept across the country, COVID-19 has taken a toll on people in the south. The fewer people have been able to get vaccinated or chosen to get vaccinated, the stronger the mutation has become.

“It’s a wildfire right now, and the spark was July 4,” said Saag. “People were behaving as if the epidemic was over. But [the virus] took advantage of the people who were unvaccinated at the time.”

The experts revealed that most people who are dying, have severe complications, or need ICU care are unvaccinated.

“Vaccines work really well with this virus,” Goepfert said. “The risks of [these COVID-19 vaccines] are exceedingly small.”

Both doctors expect full FDA approval of the three current vaccines—Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson—in the fall of 2021.

Fast facts from the experts

While Saag and Goepfert discussed medical topics—such as how the virus works in the body, treatment for patients, pathogenesis of the virus, and much more—they also discussed facts and figures relevant to the general public (numbers as of Aug. 10, 2021).


• 2-5x more infectious than the original virus or the Alpha variant
• Affects young people and makes them very sick
• Need two doses of vaccine to truly provide protection
• Monoclonal antibody treatment reduces symptoms, severity, and duration if taken within 2-4 days after symptoms onset


• Inpatients are primarily unvaccinated persons, children, and adolescents
• Emergency Rooms are overwhelmed
• Patients should seek telehealth or primary care when possible
• Hospitalizations at UAB are rapidly increasing
• Elective surgeries are being delayed


• One dose of vaccine is not sufficient with Delta
• Government support helped us get the vaccine so quickly
• Volunteer support made clinical trials faster
• Technology and science from SARS-CoV-1 helped inform researchers
• Over 90% effective with severe disease, even against the Delta variant
• Immunocompromised can get boosters now


• Tying with Mississippi in last place for vaccination
• Not all K-12 schools are requiring masks as children go back to school
• Masking mandates have not been re-instated
• Masks should be worn anyway as the entire state is at high risk of transmission

Staying safe from the Delta variant

Saag and Goepfert discussed a few ways to stay safe during this turbulent time. They recommended that if someone had meaningful exposure to COVID-19, like a person in their household, they should quarantine for 4-5 days then seek a COVID-19 test. “Delta rips through households,” said Saag. If the family members who have been exposed test negative on days 4-5 and have been vaccinated, then they can return to their routines.

paul goepfert squarePaul Goepfert, M.D.Another topic the experts discussed around safety was masking in schools. With several schools returning to in-person classrooms sans mask policies this week, Goepfert and Saag recommended minimizing infections at home and in the classroom by having kids wear a mask to school anyway. “Otherwise, it could be cascading effect of exploding cases,” Saag explained.

Both doctors recommended returning to masking policies in the general public amidst so many unvaccinated people in the community. “It’s known to be effective. And, it’s the only thing we know to be effective in a population that can’t get vaccinated,” said Goepfert. “This is not going to be here forever. We have the tools needed to stop this.”

Encouraging communication and compassion

Saag and Goepfert’s data to Alabama doctors and physicians during the webinar is information the public can utilize—especially their top tips for talking about vaccinations with those who are hesitant.

Saag says compassion reaches much further than criticism does. “Meet patients where they are,” he said. “More times than not, they are open to hearing facts.” He explained that it’s helpful to be understanding and answer questions.

Goepfert pointed out that there are several individuals who wish to get the vaccine but do not have the financial means to take off work or find child care. Alabama may be having a difficult time getting vaccinated because of high rates of health disparities and social determinants of health. He recommended that providers mobilize their vaccine services.

Misinformation requires having a trustworthy person, like a primary care physician, debunk myths. Citizens in the general public may encourage their vaccine-hesitant loved ones to speak to their doctor for more information.

In closing, Saag and Goepfert reminded health care providers to talk about how important it is to get vaccinated with their patients. Open communication is key.

Saag also warned against carelessness in the coming days and weeks. Even with breakthrough cases, it is still important to get the vaccine, he explained. It protects us from getting very sick or having to go to the hospital. Plus, the vaccine is guarding people against hospitalizations and severity of illness. Goepfert explained that—in all his years of vaccine research—this is one of the most successful vaccines he has ever seen.

whats new with covid whiteJoin the conversation

The “What’s new with COVID-19” panel series offers opportunities to learn the latest updates on COVID-19 from infectious diseases experts and epidemiologists in an informal setting. The series offers accessible panel discussions for several audiences.

The next session is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. and is open to the general public. Hear from Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., and Paul Goepfert, M.D., on the latest news about COVID-19.

Another panel specifically for health care providers will be offered Monday, Sept. 13 at 6:30 a.m. Special guests Sonya Heath, M.D., and Turner Overton, M.D., will speak to Alabama physicians and providers.