The numbers of COVID patients at The University of Kansas Health System are back up today. 40 patients with the active virus are being treated, up from 37 yesterday. 13 of those patients are in the ICU, up from 12 yesterday. Nine of those patients are on ventilators, down from ten yesterday. 16 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID but are out of the acute infection phase, the same as yesterday. That’s a total of 56 patients, up from 53 yesterday. HaysMed has eight patients today, the same as yesterday.
Today, another episode of Open Mics With Dr. Stites. It’s a chance every Wednesday for Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, to bring us up to date on all things COVID, and dive deep into other medical topics, as well as answer media and community questions. Today’s guest was Dr. Joseph McGuirk, Division Director, Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics and Medical Director, Blood and Marrow Transplant. He had news of an incredible new treatment for relapsed or refractory large b-Cell lymphoma patients.
Before getting to the main topic, doctors discussed breaking news that the Pfizer vaccine could get full FDA approval in less than a month. They note the FDA asked Moderna for more data on its vaccine, which could mean full approval for Moderna a month later. They believe that will be a game changer, as many employers will begin requiring vaccinations of their workers. They also said because testing overall is down, it’s safe to believe there are five to ten times more cases of COVID out there than we know about, and we’re at the highest point of new cases per day since November. They say about 400 total COVID patients are in metro area hospitals, after a high of 600 earlier this year, and the number is climbing back toward that peak daily. The difference now is most of the patients are young and unvaccinated and feel invincible but continue attending group gatherings and other high-risk behaviors.
Dr. McGuirk has spent a long career conducting clinical trials for cancer therapies and knows how long it takes to get new drugs approved. He firmly believes the FDA is being extremely careful with its review of the COVID vaccines, and notes that all of science is speeding up thanks to the broadening of communication through the internet. He says it’s true for advances in cancer medicine, which have increased at an amazing rate in the last decade. One in particular is a new therapy for patients with relapsed refractory large b-Cell lymphoma, the most common form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s a cancer of the immune cells and has been very difficult to treat. But for patients with advanced disease, the new treatment showed a response rate of 80 percent and complete remissions of 50 percent. It got the team wondering why should patients have to wait until they are in such dire condition to receive that therapy? Why not offer it sooner? So they became one of a few sites in the country testing it with patients in earlier stages of the disease, and the results were astounding. Almost all of them showed significant improvement and complete remissions. It’s gone from offering patients a couple of extra years of life with the more rigorous stem cell transplant, formerly the best option for these patients, to curing their disease. That’s something Dr. McGuirk calls “a paradigm shift in our field…a game changer.” The new therapy is not yet FDA approved, but on the fast track because of its success, similar to the COVID vaccines. He says, “Never in my career have I been as optimistic about the promising therapies that are unfolding in front of us. It’s gee whiz science, and it’s resulting in improvements in patients’ lives and their families. It’s an incredible time, the best time in the history of cancer therapeutics, and probably in medicine, to be a physician and get to be part of this story that’s unfolding in front of us.”
Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control, stressed that right now, the official guidance is we don’t yet need boosters from the vaccines, though some people are apparently crossing state lines trying to get a third shot. He says it’s not necessary, but probably not an ethical problem because of the supply glut of vaccines. The real ethical problem, he says, is not enough people getting their first shot. He says the average hospital stay for COVID patients is 10-14 days. He recounted how heartbreaking it is to hear from critically ill COVID patients who wish they had been vaccinated.
Dr. Stites says the FDA is the gold standard throughout the world in assuring drug safety and reassures everyone that the COVID vaccines are not being rushed. They are simply devoting more people and resources to the analysis, which allows them to reach their conclusions faster, something necessary in a worldwide pandemic. To those who say the odds of dying from COVID are low, he says, “Yeah, they’re low. Until it’s you.” He says there’s so much regret in people’s voices who are very sick and in the hospital and wish they had been vaccinated. He adds, “Hope is a powerful medicine that keeps many patients alive far beyond what’s expected and sometimes results in small miracles. But hope needs an ally, and that ally is science, and science can keep you safe.”
Thursday, August 5 at 8:00 a.m. is the next Morning Medical Update with a look at mental health concerns as children head back to school.
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