The New Year started with a sense of hope and relief to everyone. Amid good wishes for the New Year, I heard more than once the hope put on the vaccine which would soon let life return to its normal course. But after a while, the comments started to give me a sneaking and sinking suspicion that there was a little misunderstanding about the vaccine. It came to me one day while I had a conversation with someone who planned to travel during the holidays. I asked about her fears of contracting the virus during her trip, but she shrugged my fears away by pointing out that now we had the vaccine. I really loathe to rain on anybody’s parade, but given the fact that she hadn’t had the vaccine (and wasn’t eligible yet to receive it) how exactly was the vaccine going to help her?
The holidays brought together several ingredients for a dangerous cocktail: Holiday’s call for home and family; the yearning for social contact after so many months of restraint; pandemic exhaustion; a sense of relief in welcoming the vaccine, the New Year and even, perhaps, the new administration; and the new COVID-19 variation. I think the most dangerous ingredients in this cocktail might as well be the psychological ingredients – pandemic exhaustion, the sense of relief brought by the vaccine and the belief that the pandemic’s imminent end is near. They are dangerous because they might bring down your guard. That is why I thought that some clarification was in order.
There are two virus variants known so far: One, first found in South Africa has not yet been found in the USA; and another, first found in Britain and, as of January 7, detected in eight states in the USA. The test of the COVID itself, a genome test, that can detect new variants and mutations, is not widely available in this country – meaning that only because the variant has been found in these eight states, it doesn’t follow that they are only present in these eight states. As President Trump himself pointed out, if you don’t test, you won’t find the virus. Case in point, the ‘first’ case of the new variant from Britain found in the USA, was a young man from Oregon with no history of travel, therefore, he wasn’t the one who brought the virus to the USA. The new variant doesn’t seem to make the disease more severe or deadlier, but experts agree that it makes the virus more infectious – somewhere between 50% and 70% more infectious. The vaccines are believed to be effective against the variant as well.
SPREAD OF COVID-19
While we wait for the vaccine, we should be aware that a recent research paper/model calculated that 59% of COVID-19 cases are spread by people with no symptoms. Part of these cases are spread by people before they develop symptoms and part are spread by people that are asymptomatic.
By now you are aware that the vaccination in the USA has been slower than expected. How slow? At the end of 2020, a little more than 2.6 million people had been vaccinated, far short than the 20 million people that the current administration had predicted. In the first week of January, 500,00 people were vaccinated, but experts have pointed out that to finish vaccinating the country by the summer of 2021, the goal of the CDC (Center for Diseases Control and Prevention), the USA would have to vaccinate around 2 million people a day.
There is a lag between vaccine doses distributed and shots administered. As of January 7, even though 21,419,800 doses were distributed in the USA, only 5,919,418 shots had been administered. In Michigan, 662,450 doses were distributed and 137,887 shots were administered.
Why is vaccination so slow? There are several factors contributing to the problem, but most of them can be filed under organization. All of the vaccination organization, as with the pandemic responsibilities, has been delegated to the states. Michigan is responsible to figure out which clinics and hospitals will receive the vaccine, how many vaccines each place will receive, and so on. The states haven’t received funds yet to pay for all this organization and coordination, and given that the pandemic has already depleted state funds, it is not hard to understand that their work is lagging behind. Each hospital or clinic receiving the vaccines are also having problem organizing vaccination. There has been several cases of site glitches, websites overwhelmed by traffic, ineligible people scheduling appointments, and so on.
As you know, the CDC has designed a vaccination guide divided by phases. Health- care workers and nursing home patients, for example, are easy to find, since their names can be found through the institutions they work and live in and which will probably be the ones administering the shots. But essential workers like police officers, first responders, jail workers or teachers are more complicated for a clinic or a hospital to get in contact with. They will need to coordinate with other institutions and they might need to verify eligibility.
Some states have already opened vaccination to persons 65 and older. Florida, one of those states that has made people over 65 eligible for the vaccine, has seen clinics overwhelmed with long lines of people waiting for hours.
Starting on January 11, Michigan will make people over 65 eligible for the vaccine. You can find more information in the Michigan Government website (https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339–548999–,00.html ) or by calling your health provider. Be aware that not all health clinics and doctor’s offices are receiving the vaccine and if they have received the vaccine, there is only a certain amount of shots available per day. Be sure to make an appointment before heading out to see your health provider.
WHY WEAR A MASK AFTER BEING VACCINATED?
The vaccine is not an immediate defense against the virus. The vaccine works with your body to teach your cells to recognize and create anti-bodies. It takes around two weeks for your body to go through this process. And, remember, only after the second dose will your body be able to build up complete immunity against the virus. It means that until your body builds up immunity, you still can catch the disease.
There have been several cases reported of people that caught the disease after receiving the first dose of the vaccine. One of these cases is of US Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) who tested positive the day after being sworn in at the US House, even though she had received the first dose of the vaccine in December.
Another reason to continue to wear the mask, is that research on the vaccine was focused on finding out if the vaccine worked with the patient that received the shot. Research was not done to see if the people who received the vaccine can still transmit the disease to those who did not receive the vaccine. Therefore, until 70% of the population have been vaccinated, and we have achieved herd immunity, we will still have to wear the mask.
- Achenbach, Joel & Guarino, Ben. CDC foresees spread in U.S. of highly contagious coronavirus variant. Washington Post. Jan 6, 2021
- Carter, Christine. It’s a new year, but we’re in the ‘messy middle’ of the pandemic. Here are 5 ways to cope. Washington Post. Jan 5, 2021
- Guarino, Ben. People without symptoms spread virus in more than half of cases, CDC model finds. Washington Post. Jan 7, 2021
- Heinz, Frank. US Rep. Kay Granger tests positive for COVID-19, enters quarantine after appearing on House floor. https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/coronavirus/u-s-rep-kay-granger-test-positive-for-covid-19-enters-quarentine-in-washington-d-c/2518916/
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- McArdle, Megan. Our vaccination need is more urgent than ever. You wouldn’t know it from state efforts. Washington Post. Jan 5, 2021
- Sutfin, Lynn. Michiganders over age 65, some frontline essential workers can receive safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday – Michigan entering next phase for COVID-19 vaccinations. https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339–548999–,00.html
- Wen, Leana. Coronavirus vaccinations are off to a very slow start. That should set off alarms. The Washington Post. Dec 29, 2020
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- Zimmer, Carl. U.S. Is Blind to Contagious New Virus Variant, Scientists Warn. The New York Times. Jan 6, 2021