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FULL TRANSCRIPT: Dr. Deborah Birx discusses vaccines, Louisiana Labor Day celebrations during pandemic

Published: Sep. 5, 2020 at 12:50 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Dr. Deborah Birx’s interview with WAFB’s Matt Williams aired in its entirety during the 6 o’clock newscast Friday, Sept. 4.

Read below:

Matt Williams: Thank you. A conversation now with Dr. Deborah Birx, of course, a member of the white house coronavirus task force. Good of you to be with us today. You know our last holiday weekend - Memorial Day [weekend] - we saw spikes in COVID cases that can be traced back to that holiday. We have another holiday quickly approaching, so what’s your best advice heading into Labor Day? What do you expect to see?

Dr. Deborah Birx: That’s why I’m really grateful that you gave me time today. I can see the progress that Louisiana has made. After Memorial Day, what happened was there was silent spread throughout Louisiana with most people not knowing that they were COVID positive and spreading the virus continually through that 2-to-3 week period.

By the time people started going to emergency rooms, every parish in Louisiana was over ten percent test positivity except for one or two. So, it was spread throughout the state very different than the March, April timeframe.

But Louisianans joined together and followed the governor’s and mayors’ recommendations of wearing masks, making sure you’re social distancing, not having parties, even in your house or your backyard, to really stop the spread of the virus. We see that progress.

What we want to really carry into labor day is to really ask everyone to please be really observant of the key elements. And, one of them that we’re always worrying about is backyard parties. I know, [the] people we know we think couldn’t possibly have COVID. But, the people we know have been exposed and potentially have COVID. And, so, we really have to ensure that we stay six feet apart and we socially distance even with your family and your friends. Really this weekend is critical. Much progress has been made in Louisiana, and it can continue, but it’s on each and every one of us.

Matt Williams: We’d all like to be done with this. And there are some already declaring victory over the virus. I’m curious though, what you would need to see, as a doctor, to make you sit down, sit back, and say we finally got this?

Dr. Deborah Birx: Well, in order to be truly convinced that we can get control permanently over this virus, we need a vaccine. And that’s why we appreciate those who have volunteered for these trials. Many from Louisiana. It’s really critical to have volunteers from each state.

I know that everybody thinks that we’re rushing for a vaccine, and we are because we want to stop infections and we want to stop this ongoing mortality. There is one reason to have a vaccine and that’s so we can prevent ongoing infections and the mortality that comes from that.

I know that people understand, but community spread leads to community increase in hospitalizations as you’ve all experienced in Louisiana. And that leads to people dying that are our loved ones. We know how to prevent that and we’re asking everyone to follow those behaviors over Labor Day while the scientists work every day to get us closer and closer to a vaccine.

Matt Williams: Speaking of the vaccine, the President has said he does not want to be apart of the global vaccine effort organized by the World Health Organization. More than 170 other countries are apart of this. Does that worry you though? That we are not apart of, as much as we could be, more potential vaccines.

Dr. Deborah Birx: I want to make it clear to the American people how much America has led in the health of the world. That is more than a single organization.

What the United States has done is it has invested around the world.

Right now, all of these sites in Africa that are capable of doing these COVID tests, it’s because of the investment the American people have made over the last two decades into Subsaharan Africa and around the world.

It is those platforms that were there because of our prior investment that are being used right now to combat this particular pandemic in these countries.

I want every American to know that the US has led in global health. The US has led around the world in ensuring the health of other nations as well as Americans here at home. And while we work on vaccines and therapeutics, if the Americans have breakthroughs, the Americans are a very compassionate country and they will share with others.

It’s that leadership that I have always been amazingly proud of - Americans overseas right now working side-by-side in country after country to ensure that do better through this pandemic. That’s what Americans do.

Matt Williams: Of course it’s not just a pandemic we are dealing with in Louisiana. Hurricane laura ripped through our state a week ago. Trying to slow the spread of a virus while evacuations are going on and people are scattered all over, that is a big ask.

Dr. Deborah Birx: I look at the way you rally. You’ve got testing sites up really quickly to really understand that you want to continue to serve the people of Louisiana. The governor and mayors of Louisiana have every day put the health and welfare of their citizens first. And are doing everything, from really changing how they protect people during hurricanes to really ensure people really minimize exposure. And now, as Louisianans, we really need to help the governor and mayors through this time period of COVID and hurricanes, to really do our part to protect one another. I know it’s possible. I see your progress. Now is not the time to let up.

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