January 28, 2021

Pandemic paradox

Today the European arm of the World Health Organization released a statement about the pandemic, the vaccinations, and the new strains arising. They describe the phase we are in as the “Pandemic Paradox”. I agree with that. We are actually entering a risky phase, despite the promise of falling cases over the past few days and the roll out of vaccines. The new variants are causing concern and calls for increased vigilance. Everyone is exhausted and ready to relax our guard, but we can’t quite yet. Mental health concerns are also increasing and the economies of the world are suffering as well, but our risk may well increase before it goes down with the vaccines.

The new strains are not a surprise. Coronaviruses, as well as other RNA viruses, are known for creating mutations which make new strains. These evolving strains were a fear from the beginning. A rapidly spreading virus that reproduces itself by the billions daily is bound to make mistakes. The questions become do those variations change how infectious it is, how virulent (disease causing) it is, and will the vaccines still work? These worrisome strains do appear to have an evolutionary advantage of easier transmission.

There are many strains all over the world but we have 3 major strains ID’d right now that are of concern. All 3 have been found in the US. The UK strain seems to increase transmission and may increase virulence. The variant from South Africa is now here and there are worries that the vaccines we have now may not be as effective. Some new studies from Pfizer are reassuring but not definitive. The strain from Brazil has arrived in the US as well and seems to be fast moving.

All the more reason to up your mask game. Really. Just do it. Most scientists that I rely on are still confident that the vaccines will help now, but acknowledge that booster shots will be needed in the future. Moderna is already working on one. The vaccines are rolling out and President Biden and his team are moving ahead with plans to help get them distributed faster. It will take time to make a dent. In the meantime, so many are still vulnerable to infection.

I am hearing stories from around the country how health care workers solve problems to reduce wasting precious vaccine doses. I love this story about the group of public health workers on their way home after a vaccination clinic in a different town. They got stranded in a snow storm on I-5 in Oregon, then went to other stranded cars to find people to get immunized so the leftover doses would not be wasted.

The challenge for most is finding a slot to get a vaccine, frustrating for patients and providers when there are not enough doses or appointment slots. But beware the Vaccine Scams out there. The wish to get vaccinated might cause someone to not be as cautious as usual and be taken.

I highly recommend this New York Times article about vaccine questions. It goes into excellent details about the many questions we all have.

Wash your hands, cover your nose-twice!, and keep safe six.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.