BD exec worries about next variant, wonders about U.S. role in global fight

Andrews, VP of global medical affairs, feels pandemic will be around for years due to slow pace of vaccination worldwide

Dr. Jeff Andrews. (File photo)

When Dr. Jeff Andrews, vice president of global medical affairs at BD, looks into the future, he said he sees two Americas: One that has a high rate of vaccinations — and thus will be able to better handle the pandemic — and one that doesn’t.

More than that, Andrews sees a country that needs to help the rest of the world.

“You have to ask the question, ‘What is the responsibility of a wealthy country like the United States in the face of a global pandemic?’” he said. “How do we help these other countries, both with vaccination and with testing and treatment?”

“And, I think that will become the more pressing issue next year: We will feel like we have this mostly under control. But then, how do we address our global responsibility when there’s so many other things going on in the world?”

BD, which makes its global headquarters in Franklin Lakes, has made some global outreach since the pandemic started, working with Heart to Heart International, among others, to bring supplies to those who need them.

How significant is the creation of mRNA vaccines?

Dr. Jeff Andrews of BD: The mRNA vaccines are really a genius breakthrough. We’re now going to see huge benefits in health care, using this technology, both for future vaccines and for future medications.

I just wish people could understand what a positive thing has happened here, instead of all these misconceptions. I think most people don’t have a good understanding of biological science. And they’re concerned because it seems mysterious. When the (COVID-19) vaccine came back at 92-94% effective, the entire country should have been ecstatic.

That need may only grow. Andrews said the pandemic is far from over.

“This is a global pandemic,” he said. “It’s going to go on for years because other countries can’t get vaccinated. And, eventually, another variant will come here. And the best way of preventing what’s happening today from happening next year, is to complete the vaccinations.”

Failure to raise vaccination rates in the U.S. will have significant impact, Andrews said.

“I think that large portions of the U.S. will have successful vaccination and, therefore, in those areas, COVID will be what we call endemic,” he said. “There will be small numbers of cases, which can easily be traced, and we stop the spread. And there will likely be other areas of the United States where not enough people got vaccinated, and the next area breaks out. And that’s sad.”

Andrews, who works out of the BD Diagnostics Center in Sparks, Maryland, recently spoke with ROI-NJ on all things COVID.

Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for clarity:

ROI-NJ: Like all other medical experts, you talk about the need for vaccinations. How is that impacting what you’re seeing?

Jeff Andrews: Vaccinations in the United States peaked at around 3.3 million a day in April. And, if you had gone back to that day, and projected forward that pace of vaccinations, we wouldn’t be having a surge right now in the United States. So, I know the news story right now is about the Delta variant, but the reason this is happening is because we reduced vaccinations from 3.3 million to 200,000 a day. It’s drifted back up to 450,000, but the real story is, not enough people got vaccinated.

ROI: Could that lead to a ‘story’ about the next variant? How concerned are you about what comes after Delta?

JA: They’ve already identified a variant of interest that they’ve called Lambda, which, so far, looks OK. I’ve kind of nicknamed the variant that’s going to be scarier than Delta, Epsilon — because that’s the next letter in the Greek alphabet. It hasn’t happened yet. But it probably will. So, in terms of the next variant, we can prevent that story from happening if we can get maximum vaccination in the United States.

ROI: Have you been surprised by the hesitancy to get the vaccine?

JA: Yes. But I know it has something to do with the times that we’re living in, and the way people process information with social media and conspiracy theories. There’s always been a lot of myths and concerns about any subject. When I think back over my medical career, patients always have come in and asked questions. They may have heard something, but usually in a one-to-one conversation with their own doctor, they can change their perspective when they get good information. And that’s one of the things that we hear in the media, encouraging people to go talk to their own family doctor.

But, there’s just so much misinformation out there. It began when the pandemic began, when there was a lot of misinformation being shared at a high level. And for some reason, that transferred to the vaccine, which I don’t quite understand, because the vaccine was promoted by everybody in the government, no matter their perspective. I’m not sure what went wrong there.

ROI: Now, it’s up to medical professionals such as yourself to correct these misconceptions. As someone who has been behind the scenes, so to speak, for years, what is it like to be out front on such an important topic?

JA: I think it’s been very exciting for everybody at BD in all different types of work positions to be participating in something that’s this important. And it’s not just the test; we also supply a lot of the supplies that are used in ICU. We supply the syringes and needles for the vaccination, so BD’s been participating in many ways.

What’s been fun for me is that I’m what’s known as an evidence-based medicine expert. And I do a lot of explaining of statistics, trying to communicate to people in all walks of life. And the idea that prevalence and positive predictive value and sensitivity were being discussed on the television was very fun for me. I’m hoping this continues, so people will have a better understanding of risks, how we make decisions — and what some of these numbers mean.