Saturday, June 11

The third year of the epidemic is now underway: Now what?

Contrary to how it may sometimes appear, the epidemic is still with us.

Increasingly, people are going back to work in person. Schools restarted this spring. And mask mandates are history in most regions of the US. In many regions, case rates are declining and deaths due to COVID-19 have become infrequent. For many, life now closely approaches pre-pandemic normalcy. So, what do you need to know about where we are now?

Not so fast: COVID remains a serious problem

The infection is still very much with us, not behind us. According to the CDC, in the US there are roughly 100,000 new cases (possibly an underestimate) and around 300 deaths each day due to COVID as of this writing. Despite this, more and more individuals are paying less and less attention.

That might be a grave error. With the summer travel season upon us and terrible forecasts for fall and winter, it is prudent to pause, take a deep breath, and reevaluate the situation.

Here are answers to five questions I've been hearing frequently recently.

1. I have not yet contracted COVID. So, do I still need a vaccine?

Yes, indeed! Vaccination and booster shots are the most effective means of preventing serious COVID-19 infection.

Perhaps you have avoided infection thus far due to your vigilance with physical separation, masking, and other preventative methods. Alternatively, you may have inherited genes that make your immune system very adept at resisting the COVID-19 virus. Or maybe you've just been lucky.

Regardless of the reason, it is prudent to maintain vigilance. The virus that causes COVID, SARS-CoV-2, is highly infectious, particularly in the more recent forms. And while some individuals are at a greater risk than others, everybody is susceptible to infection and can develop a severe illness from this virus. Even if you develop a mild or moderate case of COVID-19, keep in mind that some people develop chronic COVID symptoms, such as fatigue and brain fog.

2. Increasing numbers of vaccinated individuals are falling ill with COVID. I've also heard that more COVID-related deaths have happened since the introduction of vaccines than before their introduction. So, how significant is the impact of immunizations and booster shots? They have a significant impact.

In the United States, it is believed that COVID-19 vaccines have saved more than two million lives. If vaccination rates had been higher, more than 300,000 additional lives could have been saved, according to estimates.

We know that infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates fell drastically among vaccinated individuals shortly following the introduction of vaccines. We also know that the majority of severe COVID-19 cases among vaccinated individuals occur among those who have not had a booster injection. Overall, serious cases and mortality continue to be substantially lower among vaccinated and boosted individuals than among unvaccinated individuals.

Is it true that the proportion of severe COVID cases and mortality among vaccinated individuals has increased? Yes, however possible reasons for this tendency demonstrate that vaccines continue to protect individuals from life-threatening diseases:

When infection rates decline, hospitalization and mortality rates fall for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Therefore, the difference between the infection and mortality rates of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals narrows.

Vaccines currently available are less effective against emerging viral strains. True, however, these vaccines continue to minimize the risk of serious disease efficiently.

Immunity declines with time. This is true even for the most effective immunizations, which is why boosters are necessary. However, only approximately one-third of the US population has received a COVID booster. This facilitates the virus' continued spread and mutation.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we've now spent longer with vaccines than without them. Because no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, the number of cases and deaths will continue to rise, eventually surpassing the number of cases and deaths before vaccination.

3. Initially, vaccines were expected to solve the problem. Then we required a booster shot. Now we need two. What is occurring, and why should I care?

Good questions. The protection offered by the majority of vaccines tends to diminish over time. Therefore, tetanus vaccinations are suggested every ten years. The protection against COVID-19 may fade a few months after the initial vaccination doses. Five months after completing the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine series, or four months following the single-dose J&J vaccine, it is advised that all immunized individuals receive their first booster shot.

Because immunity from the first booster may decrease more quickly in older persons and those with specific health conditions, an additional dosage of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is now offered to those over the age of 50 and others at increased risk.

4. Now that mask requirement are a thing of the past and everyone is tired of COVID restrictions, what else can be done? It is unclear whether mask requirements should have been repealed as quickly as they were, especially as infection rates began to rise again. Only hindsight will reveal whether or not that was a wise idea.

As for other precautions, physical separation, concealment, and other actions are still appropriate in certain circumstances. For example, if you are utilizing public transportation or flying, a mask that fits properly can provide some protection. If you are routinely exposed to a large number of people and will soon be in close contact with a high-risk individual, wear a mask and be tested beforehand.

5. What is the conclusion here? Get immunized! If eligible for a boost, obtain one. It makes no sense to have the initial vaccination and then refuse boosters. If you are one of the rare individuals who have a severe reaction to one type of vaccine, inquire about receiving a booster dose of a different vaccine.

Few anticipated that more than two years after the pandemic's onset, it would continue to cause so much pain and death. However, we shouldn't pretend it's finished; don't discard your masks just yet and continue to adhere to public health recommendations. If you've opted against vaccination or booster shots, reconsider (and reconsider)!

Yes, we've had enough of the pandemic. However, I see it this way: if it appears to be raining, throwing away your umbrella and pretending it's sunny are moves you'll likely come to regret.

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