How Could Something So Cozy Be So Dangerous?
Here we are in early January of 2021, and the hangover from the 2020 holidays continues to darken our skies. People have grown tired of the 3 W’s: Wearing a cloth mask, Waiting 6 feet apart, avoiding close contact, and Washing hands frequently. Instead, people travelled far and wide to see their loved ones for the holidays, gathered together for meals and lodging with folks they didn’t live with, and didn’t wear their masks. “What could be the harm? It’s just me making this trip the one time.”
The problem is that most people don’t know they’ve been infected with COVID-19 for several days, during which time they are infectious. And humans believe in patterns – if someone has managed to evade the virus for 9 months so far, they may think they are somehow safe now. But the risk has only been going up and up as the prevalence of COVID infection increases. The days are short, the weather has been inclement, and folks don’t want to only meet up outside. They want to celebrate together, and with Americans, that often means food. Food means removing your mask to eat, often sitting down in one place for a while. How could something so cozy be dangerous?
COVID-19, Vaccination, and What To Do While You Wait
Those of us in America never saw much of a lull in the COVID cases over the summer. Healthcare workers knew from the beginning that COVID would come roaring back in the winter, but we thought we’d at least have a break over the summer. The increased cases we’ve been seeing post-Thanksgiving, with more post-Christmas, compounded by the high-baseline level of COVID in the Fall, means that the numbers of new COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths that we are suffering were unthinkable just 6 months ago. Hospitals and medical centers are cracking under the pressure. This is not sustainable, and care may soon be rationed. This can be prevented, but we must act now.
COVID for the most part hangs out in particles generated from the respiratory tract. Certain activities generate more particles, like singing, shouting, and exercising. Avoid taking part in these activities, especially if they are conducted indoors where particles are less likely to disperse. Avoid eating indoors with people who do not live in your household, move those food-related events outdoors, and have a socially distanced picnic. Wear a mask over both your nose and mouth when you are around other people who don’t live in your house. Make sure that the mask that you select does not have a valve in it, that valve will protect you but will still expose others to whatever you may be carrying.
When Will It Be Your Turn?
The way to know when it’s your turn to get vaccinated is to keep an eye on your state’s public health/department of health and human services website. Each state is responsible for writing and carrying out their own vaccination plan, which may differ from the recommended CDC/ACIP guidelines. Right now, many states are only vaccinating health-care workers and those who live in long-term care facilities. Some states are starting to vaccinate the elderly as well.
The situation is dire. Vaccine supplies and distribution channels are taking longer to build than we would have liked. So while we wait for our vaccination group to be called, let’s take measures to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and those at risk in our community, safe.
What We Know
We know the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/NIH vaccines are safe and effective because they have been tested in over 40,000 people. That’s a very large sample size. We developed these vaccines using technologies that were already being leveraged to make new vaccines and treatments. All of this technology is built on lessons learned about the immune system by NIH in the decades that they have been recruiting patients with immune system abnormalities, such as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis in order to learn the roles of different immune-mediating molecules.
But understand that a safe vaccine does not mean that there is no risk of injury from a vaccine, it means that the benefit outweighs the risk. Most adverse events reported with a possible association to vaccines are not fatal, as we know COVID can be. Most vaccine-related adverse events last a short time and then resolve, but for many people, the effects of COVID have not gone away when the infection resolved.
I’m waiting to take my shot, as soon as it’s my turn. I know which vaccination group I am in for my state, and I’m checking my state health department COVID hub every few days for more information. The first dose of vaccine only confers about 54% immunity, the second dose is given 3 or 4 weeks later (depending on manufacturer). Two weeks after the second immunization, a person has 95% immunity to COVID. Until it’s my turn, and until I’m more than 2 weeks after my second dose of vaccine, I’m planning to stay home, limit my ventures into my community, wear a mask, and wash my hands.
We at Usagi Medical Group would love to answer any questions you may have about COVID, the vaccine, and pandemics in general. Feel free to drop us a question and we will answer you.