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Bioscience-Medicine

Texas Biomed President Says It's Too Soon To Lift Pandemic Restrictions

Approximately 15,000 people attended UT's first football game of the year. Despite the mask requirement, many game-goers were not wearing masks.
Dominic Anthony Walsh | Texas Public Radio
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Approximately 15,000 people attended UT's first football game back in September 2020. Despite the mask requirement, many game-goers were not wearing masks.

Texas Biomed — a San Antonio research institute — played a key role in the development of the antibody treatment that former President Donald Trump credits with his recovery from COVID-19.

The institute's president Dr. Larry Schlesinger has a few thoughts about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that lifts the state's mask mandate and opens all businesses at 100% capacity as of March 10. Schlesinger says it's too soon. TPR Bioscience and Medicine Reporter and host of the Petrie Dish podcast asked him why.

Schlesinger: "Well, you know, you've heard a lot about the concept of herd immunity, and that number is at least 70% or more.

We are nowhere near that number from all calculations in the state of Texas and nationally and internationally. So that we are still a vulnerable population partially protected, that's a very tricky situation to be in.

Because if the community is only partially protected at a small percentage, then that's a situation where viruses continue to evolve. And that could well lead to another resurgence."

dr_larry_schlesinger.jpg
Texas Biomedical Research Institute
Dr. Larry Schlesinger is the president of Texas Biomed

When Dr. Schlesinger talks about the evolution of the virus, he’s talking about the mutations — or variants — that we’ve been hearing about lately. Viruses mutate all the time, and the COVID virus is no exception. But scientists are watching five particular COVID variants right now that are either more contagious, may be more deadly, or make the current batch vaccines less effective.

All five of these variants have been confirmed in Texas.

Scientists like Schlesinger fear that if the virus continues to spread, even as we seek to quickly vaccinate the population, it will mutate in such a way that none of the current vaccines will protect against it anymore.

Then scientists will have to take several steps back and develop boosters or new vaccines, adding weeks or months to the length of this pandemic.

So, Schlesinger says, everyone should keep masking up whether state law requires it or not. Why does he think those small scraps of fabric are such an important weapon in this fight?

Schlesinger:

"Many decades of rigorous public health research have provided us strong evidence for how masks and physical distancing protect you... protect us... from airborne types of infections, period. There is no question about that.

This is a time where I believe we need to continue to use those measures that protect society from this virus, which has killed over a half a million people.

Now that we have vaccines coming on the market, that we're beginning to see case rates go down. This is precisely a time where you want to nip it in the bud, you want to be more protective, not less, to finally put this to rest."

As president of Texas Biomed, Schlesinger doesn’t usually reach out to reporters and ask to be interviewed. But after the Gov. Abbott issued his order, Schlesinger did just that. Why did he feel compelled to talk publicly about this particular subject at this time?

Schlesinger:

"Number one, as a physician, I am moved by just how much suffering and death is going on. Number two, as a physician-scientist, science is the hero here. The fact that we produced vaccines to go in our arms in 11 months is phenomenal. It's, to me, thrilling that we have something to protect ourselves from this pandemic.

So at this critical time, where we have these precious vaccines being rolled out where case rates are down, I feel compelled to tell the public that now is the time to hunker down. Get those vaccines when they become available, protect yourself and others and we're gonna beat this thing.

And I would hate for us to be talking a year from now and saying, you know, we didn't learn. Another resurgence, and now we're dealing with more variants of the virus."

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