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Healix International's Dr. Adrian Hyzler talks:
Healix International chief medical officer Dr. Adrian Hyzler spoke with BTN editorial director Elizabeth West late last week about the current landscape surrounding Covid-19, the delta variant, vaccinations and business travel. Edited highlights follow.
BTN: It's been eight months since we last talked, when the clinical trial results for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had just been publicized. What is your perspective of the vaccine rollout?
Dr. Adrian Hyzler: I was doing cartwheels about how amazing the data was that came out from Pfizer. That is still the case. Pfizer and Moderna remain those stellar examples of incredible vaccines that have maintained that initial joy. Since then, other vaccines have come out. The Sputnik from Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, the Chinese vaccines, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson. From a worldwide perspective, we've seen [some] countries surge ahead, like the U.S., the U.K., Israel and some smaller countries that have done very well in vaccine rollout.
Europe started slowly, they had problems with acquisition of vaccines and with arguing amongst themselves. But now … they have just overtaken the U.S. in the [percent of adults vaccinated]. But in Southeast Asia, for example, they've got huge issues with vaccine rollouts. In Japan, in South Korea, [they are having issues now] because it was never a big priority. The same in Australia and New Zealand—they didn't prioritize vaccines because they had low numbers. They thought they could wait to see how the vaccine rollout went, how problems went with vaccines. But I don't think they realized that vaccines were going to be so scarce and that production wouldn't ramp up as hoped. Latin America is slowly getting their vaccine drive going with vaccines from China and Russia helping out there. In Africa, the availability of vaccines is incredibly low.
BTN: We are seeing signs that the delta variant is setting back some companies' return-to-office and return-to-business travel plans.
Hyzler: Return-to-office efforts ramped up a lot this year with the vaccination drives. In April and May there were plenty of plans to reopen offices in June and July. A lot of it was controlled by governments which for a long time gave directives to work from home if you can. Those restrictions have been released recently, and there is the desire to get people back in the office. There's now information, though, about Google, about Apple … to say a planned back-to-the-office in September has now been pushed back to October. I think that's a holding position and we'll see more of it.
BTN: What about business travel?
Hyzler: There is definitely a desire from many governments to get business travel going. The variants have just got in the way of that. Each time it looked like things are going to open up, another variant, whether it was alpha or the beta from South Africa or the gamma from South America. Now delta has reared its ugly head. People don't want others bringing delta into the country.
BTN: There's an argument that delta is already around. It's not a case of bringing it to a certain country, particularly if you can screen passenger health.
Hyzler: Once delta is not trying to be suppressed in countries but trying to be managed, then I think we can move on to business travel equivalence [across borders]. Travel across Europe has become quite common, and the same will happen between the States and Europe, as well, once it's accepted that delta is widespread. But then, there's lambda, which has taken over Peru and spread into Chile. We still don't really know epidemiological consequences of that as regards to case numbers and hospitalizations—and there will be other variants.
We’re trying to encourage [organizations] to look at their travelers from a medical point of view and risk-rate how likely they are to get severe disease if they were to contract Covid-19.”
BTN: We've seen digital health passports launch in Europe. Do you think similar tools will help get things going outside of Europe?
Hyzler: It was very important in the EU that they didn't call this a vaccine passport. It was a digital immunity pass. It doesn't just encompass vaccination. It encompasses a negative test, negative PCO, or someone who has been recently infected and recovered from Covid-19 and has immunity through natural infection. It didn't mean you had to be vaccinated, but there were other alternatives to exempt you. There's not going to be a universal immunity pass in the States. It's just not going to happen. There are too many factions that will absolutely never accept it. In that case, you're having to rely on a piece of paper, and there are going to be plenty of different pieces of paper from all sorts of different organizations that are going to have to interpret it around the world. I think that is going to be a bit of a stumbling block.
BTN: Have you seen business travel for Healix International clients beginning to ramp up?
Hyzler: A lot of the companies we look after—quite large multinational clients—are trying to get traveling. It's to a small extent for important meetings that need to be face-to-face. We're trying to encourage [organizations] to look at their travelers carefully from a medical point of view and risk-rate how likely they are to get severe disease if they were to contract Covid-19. That's what companies we're dealing with are [using to] decide who travels and who doesn't, because it's very hard to look after people abroad if they get Covid and they get admitted to the hospital and they're in intensive care. We're trying to avoid people getting to that situation.
BTN: That is a different answer than I expected. What about privacy issues—do travelers want to share that level of health information with their organizations?
Hyzler: Probably en masse, they don't. Not wishing to plug what Healix is doing, other organizations are doing the same thing, but we are looking after that privacy. [Travelers] are declaring health conditions on an online form that gets processed by Healix. The output has no medical information. It [would] be much more difficult if that were being shared with the parent organization, but it's not.
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