Pharmacist Gratch talks about COVID-19

By Hannah Simon

Steven Gratch is a member of Congregation Ahavath Sholom. While he was attending morning minyan one day last week, Rabbi Andrew Bloom asked him to speak to his Adult Education class — “Healing of the Mind, Body, Psyche and Soul” — via Zoom because he had just finished his annual Midyear Clinical Meeting for the American Society Health-System Pharmacists, which was held virtually. This is the largest pharmacist meeting, which would have been in New Orleans, Louisiana, this year with about 30,000 participants. At the meeting, he spent about eight hours learning about COVID-19. 

Gratch’s father was also a pharmacist. As a young boy, Steven learned how to count by counting pills with his father. He comes from a family of pharmacists. Gratch attended the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at University of the Sciences and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy. He has worked for many years in the pharmaceutical industry. Gratch and his wife, Frances, have three children together — Jonathan Gratch, (Jian Zhang), Nicole Pinkos (Jared Pinkos) and Marc Gratch (Dinah Houston-Gratch). The Gratches have four grandchildren. 

Gratch told the class about the virus, how it is transmitted, how it manifests in people and a little about testing and prevention.

SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name. 

The virus originated from Wuhan, China. It jumped from bats to humans. It is not unusual for a virus to jump from one species to another. 

Recent developments have shown there are some new variations of the virus being reported in the UK. There is little known except that this may be a more infectious form of COVID-19 causing an increase in the rate of spread. It is unknown how this will affect the vaccines, though experts are optimistic. 

It is primarily a respiratory transmission via your breath. 

Once it is in the lungs, it has learned to transfer around the whole body, mostly involving the lungs and airway. 

● Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, flu-like symptoms and loss of taste and smell, and our bodies cannot produce antibodies fast enough. 

● There are three types of tests. The first and most reliable test is the T-PCR test, which looks for an antigen and uses a nasal swab. The test results take about 18 hours. The second is a rapid test which looks for markers of antigens in the body. It is about 80% accurate after exposure of less than four days. Four days after exposure, the rapid test is 90% effective. The last is the serological (antibody) test, which looks specifically for antibodies.

The FDA has recently approved a home COVID-19 antigen test. The kit contains a nasal swab which is placed into the accompanying device. After 15 minutes, you receive a result of positive or negative. This is a one-time use kit that will cost approximately $30. The kit will hit the shelves in about a month or so. 

Social distancing and wearing a mask can prevent the spread of the virus. 

Not being in close contact with people and staying home can also prevent the virus. 

The two vaccines that are out right now were developed by Pfizer and Moderna. Both use mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) and do not contain any part of the virus. The mRNA teaches the body how to make certain proteins. There have never been vaccines made this way before. Both of these vaccines require two separate shots three to four weeks apart, depending on manufacturer. 

There are seven other vaccines being developed by Johnson & Johnson, Oxford/AstraZeneca and other companies. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be sent to the FDA by the end of January or February. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one-shot vaccine. 

“Word of advice: When getting the vaccine make sure you know what brand and when you need the follow-up shot, which must be scheduled for the two mRNA vaccines,” Gratch explained. 

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