the pandemic – year 3

My first post about the pandemic was February 29, 2020, a Stream of Consciousness Saturday post, no less! COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was already killing people in China, other parts of Asia, and Europe but had just begun to sicken and kill people in the United States, where I live.

I’ve written dozens of posts since then about the impact of the pandemic on our lives and about spouse B, daughter T, and my participation in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial. Yesterday, B and T, who are being followed currently on the efficacy of the third dose, had an appointment for blood work to add to the data on the longevity of antibodies and other immune markers six months after their third dose. I am also boosted and remain part of the trial, although, as someone who was in the placebo group initially, I am now part of the group who received their third dose later, so I am not on the leading edge in terms of data. There is a possibility that, when Pfizer/BioNTech develop an Omicron-specific booster, we may be asked to participate in that phase of the trial as well. Meanwhile, we continue to do weekly check-ins via app and do testing if symptoms that could be COVID appear.

I am grateful that we are able to help advance the science on the vaccines which have averted millions of hospitalizations and deaths. Even though the Omicron variant causes more breakthrough cases among vaccinated and boosted individuals than earlier variants, the vast majority are still protected from serious complications and death. I’m just sad that so many people around the world, by personal choice or by lack of availability, remain unprotected.

While Omicron tends to cause less severe symptoms than some of the earlier variants, it can still be deadly. The case numbers in the US, almost all caused by Omicron at this point, are staggering, reaching record numbers. On January 11, the US reported 1.35 million new cases with 136,604 hospitalizations, both records. The case count is somewhat elevated by the fact that some states don’t report new cases over the weekend, making the Monday numbers higher, but the seven-day average is over 700,000, so there are extraordinary levels of infection in evidence. Some hospital systems are overwhelmed, especially because staffing is a challenge. Many health care workers are exhausted by the sheer volume of patients and length of the pandemic and some have left the field. Right now, there are also a lot of vaccinated and boosted staff who have developed breakthrough cases; even if they are asymptomatic, they could still be contagious, so they have to isolate until they test clear of the virus.

The difficult thing for me to accept is that so many people in the US have chosen not to be vaccinated, despite the risks to themselves, their families, and their communities. Because Omicron is so transmissible, the safest course of action is to be vaccinated and boosted, while continuing to mask in indoor public spaces, to distance from non-household members, to avoid crowds, to sanitize appropriately, and to test before (small) social gatherings. By combining all those measures, B, T, and I were able to travel to London, where Omicron was running rampant, and get home virus-free.

Yes, going into year three of this, we are all tired of having to think about COVID safety all the time, but the virus doesn’t get “tired” of mutating and infecting people. We need to do everything we can to promote public health and to protect those who because of age or health condition can’t develop vaccine protection. We have to continue to study the virus, including all variants, to assess their impacts, including how long and strong immunity is from vaccines and from infection. Unfortunately, many viruses don’t tend to confer long-lasting immunity. If they did, we wouldn’t continue to get common colds repeatedly. Current research on SARS-CoV-2 shows immunity extending to about eight months. Some suggest that immunity could stretch to five years but we can’t know that yet, as this virus hasn’t been around that long. It also looks like some of the variants, like Omicron, are better at evading immunity, whether from prior infection or vaccines. We also have to be prepared for further variants that could be even more transmissible and/or cause more severe disease.

We are still in the pandemic phase with COVID-19. The world is unlikely to be able to rid itself of the virus totally. At some point, we will reach an endemic phase, where the virus is in circulation but not causing widespread serious illness/deaths through some combination of vaccines, natural immunity, and treatments. Will year three be the final year of this pandemic? No one knows for sure, but I am trying to hang onto hope that it will be.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/13/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-13th-2022/

trip reflections

Over the past three weeks, I’ve posted frequently about the trip spouse B, daughter T, and I took to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents, with whom they live.

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I always try to be truthful, so I must say that the best word to describe the trip as a whole is complicated.

It featured: L’s bout with Omicron that began several days before we arrived; delayed COVID test results that kept B and T in Newark overnight while I flew alone to London; bad colds for B and me; flares of chronic health conditions among several of us; a couple of bad backs; booster shot side effects; a lot of restless nights without adequate sleep; teething; upset tummies; a couple of strained backs; the news of the death of a friend back home; a badly swollen nose from JG throwing her head back into the person holding her, as toddlers are wont to do; a dearth of alone time for the introverts among us; the inadvisability of going to church for Christmas, Sundays, and Epiphany; JG’s reluctance to let us hold her if her mom was in the building; and a dead battery in our van after we flew back into Newark.

Despite all that there are many thing for which I am grateful:

That we were able to go at all, despite Omicron running rampant on both sides of the pond, and that the UK didn’t impose restrictions on private gatherings as they had done earlier in the pandemic. We appreciated the high level of compliance with masking and distancing and avoided crowds. I credit that, along with being triple vaxed with Pfizer/BioNTech and testing, for keeping us COVID-free.

Our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood, only a couple of blocks from their house. Being so close meant we didn’t need to go on public transport to visit. It also gave us the opportunity to have sleepovers, including having E, JG, and ABC overnight on Christmas Eve, just as L was able to finish up his COVID isolation period. It was fun to have Christmas stockings and breakfast with them at our place before going over to their house for Christmas dinner and presents. Four-year-old ABC was also thrilled to have some solo sleepovers with her Nana, Grandpa, and Auntie T, including our last night in town. ABC even got to help with making some Christmas cookies in our kitchen, reminding us of her days helping Grandpa in our kitchen back home in New York when she and E lived with us for over two years before E’s spousal visa came through.

Getting to have a lot of family meals together. Most were cooked at home, but we also were able to do some by delivery, including some yummy London fish and chips.

Walks in the neighborhood, in the parks, and to ABC’s school. She was on break most of the time we were there, but did have three days of school during our last week there. E and T even got to have a special sisters outing to a botanic garden. It was strange, though, to see some flowers still blooming, including roses. London was having an oddly warm spell. We did see quite a lot of holly and ivy, though, bringing to mind the traditional British Christmas carols.

Television and Internet. While we couldn’t go to church in person for fear of Omicron, we were able to watch Lessons and Carols live on Christmas Eve. I was able to watch recordings of liturgies from my local parishes back home on my laptop. We were also able to enjoy some children’s programming with ABC and JG. I especially like Bluey, an Australian series which is part of the CBeebies (BBC’s children’s television channel) line-up. ABC was also watching Frozen II and Encanto quite frequently, both of which were new to us.

The chance to renew bonds with ABC, who can remember us from when she lived with us. The opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to JG, who we met for the first time when she came to the States last August, just after she turned one. We are hoping that she will be able to realize who we are now when we videochat so that we aren’t starting from scratch again as strangers when next we meet, but it’s difficult to know if that is possible. A few months between visits is a significant chunk of a lifetime to a toddler.

Seeing E. Even though we were both tired and stressed, I appreciated the snatches of conversation we were able to have. I remember what it was like to be responsible for two little girls under five, with a lot of that time being solo. I sincerely wish I could be there more to help but that isn’t in the cards right now. The ocean is a big barrier, except for my love, sympathy, and empathy.

E will always have my heart.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/11/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-11th-2022/

sad news and shopping

We are nearing the end of our holiday visit to London. Today is our last full day with granddaughter ABC who will go back to school to begin the new term tomorrow. As a treat, ABC stayed over at our Airbnb with us last night. B made a yummy coffee cake for our breakfast. We had plans to meet up with our daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter JG for a morning shopping excursion and lunch.

I checked my email and found the sad news that one of the long-time members of the spirituality book study group at our neighborhood church that I facilitate had passed away. We had not seen each other since our group was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic, although we spoke by phone periodically. I had sent her a Christmas card not long before we left for the UK. I tried to bring up her obituary through our online subscription to our local newspaper, but, for some reason, it doesn’t work outside the US. I wish I could be there to attend the funeral but I’m afraid it will be held before I get back to the States. We had hoped to resume class in the spring, but it will be missing a certain spark without Christine.

We were able to meet up in Stratford for shopping, quite close to the site of the Olympic Park. I went by car with L so JG and ABC could be in their car seats, while B, T, and E took the bus. Had the weather been less chilly and rainy, they might have walked. We did a bit of shopping for ABC who needed some new skirts and black shoes as part of her school uniform. I was shocked to find a pair of boots for myself; I have short but narrow feet so tend to be hard to fit. We had lunch at a pasta shop in the mall, followed by gelato and sorbetto at another shop. We navigated our way back to the house and our nearby Airbnb and are now having naptime for the children (and some adults) before meeting up later for supper together.

We have been being careful about being out in public. This was our biggest encounter in public since our arrival days, but we wore our masks on the busses and in the shopping center, except while eating. The shops open onto a covered space that is open to the outdoors, so air circulation was good where we were walking and eating. We were also able to keep a good distance between groups of people. It helps to give peace of mind that B, T, E, and I are all boosted. L is just recently recovered from omicron but will be eligible to be boosted soon. We all need to protect ABC and JG, as well as keep ourselves negative so we can fly back to the US on Saturday.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/04/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-4th-2022/

travel in Omicron time

In October, we made plans to visit daughter E, son-in-law L, granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents with whom they live in London, UK for the holidays. I hadn’t shared much about our plans here for fear that we would have to cancel, as we did with a planned visit in November 2020. At the time we made our plans, vaccination rates and COVID rates looked amenable for travel for three people who had had three doses of Pfizer vaccine, due to our participation in the clinical trials.

And then, in November, the Omicron variant appeared.

Travel and testing policies changed. Everyone wanted to know how virulent it is, if vaccines are protective, how severe it is, where it is spreading – and they wanted to know right away. Unfortunately, science doesn’t work that way. It takes time to gather and analyze data.

It actually was to our advantage that there were several weeks before our trip for some preliminary conclusions to be discerned. Yes, Omicron is more transmissible than the very contagious Delta but tends to cause less severe disease and to run a shorter course. Vaccines were less effective than against other variants but having a booster greatly increased protection.

And Omicron was rapidly spreading almost everywhere.

My home state of New York in the US was experiencing a spike in Omicron on top of a spike in Delta. In London, Omicron was taking over with over 90% of new COVID cases caused by it.

Still, travel was open for vaccinated people to enter the UK, we had our required testing scheduled both in the US and the UK, and the UK had not imposed restrictions on gatherings in private homes, so we were good to go, scheduled to fly out of Newark on Monday night, Dec. 20.

On Thursday, Dec. 16, L tested positive for COVID. He had been testing at home every day before going to work in the schools and didn’t have symptoms. He immediately had a follow-up test with a medical facility to confirm, then went into isolation in a bedroom. He developed symptoms which were like having a bad cold, which seems more typical with Omicron. In accord with UK protocol, the adults in the house tested themselves every morning. If they were negative, they could go out for the day. The children would only need to be tested if they had symptoms.

Obviously, this was scary news a few days before our trip, but, being used to uncertainty by now, we decided to go ahead with our plans.

On Saturday morning, we did COVID tests at the local pharmacy. The results were supposed to be available by noon on Monday and our flights wasn’t until 10 PM, so no problem, right?

Except that they didn’t come. We headed to Newark airport, which is about three hours away, hoping to get a rapid test there, but the testing center closed early, so we waited for our results to come in. As it turned out, only mine came through in time, so I flew to Heathrow by myself. This was the first time I had ever flown internationally without being part of a group, but I managed, admittedly with a lot of helpful staff and fellow travellers who could probably tell that this silver-haired woman wasn’t quite up to snuff, especially after a sleepless night on a plane. E met me at the train station and helped me get settled – and do my COVID test that the UK required. I needed to stay in isolation until I got a negative result.

Meanwhile, B and T re-booked their flight for the next evening, stayed at a hotel overnight, and went to the airport bright and early to go to the rapid test center. They had finally gotten their negative results from the Saturday tests but, because they were now flying on Tuesday, that test was too old to meet the requirements. Fortunately, I was already checked in to the hotel so they could start their UK isolation/testing bit, too. I’m happy to say that the UK results came much more quickly, so we were out of isolation by the time we moved to our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood on Thursday.

When you are browsing through Airbnb’s site, you can’t see the exact address. We knew we were in the neighborhood, but were pleased to find out we are only about three blocks from their house. Given that we are trying to limit our exposure to crowds, it’s nice to just have a short walk between the two places. It’s also nice to have our own kitchen. We even have an enclosed back garden, although it’s been too rainy to use it.

We benefited from a change in UK policy. Instead of having to isolate for ten days, people are allowed to leave isolation sooner if they have two negative test 24 hours apart. This meant that L was able to get out of isolation in time to have Christmas Day together. (You can read about the menu here.)

In deference to the wild spread of Omicron, we are not going to church or other kinds of crowded venues, like museums, during this visit. We are pretty much going back and forth between the two houses. While B, T, and I and L’s parents were all boosted, E and L were scheduled to get their boosters on Sunday, three days after Larry tested positive. E’s COVID exposure delayed her getting a booster until Dec. 24; L can get his in several weeks. For the record, E and L were not negligent in scheduling their boosters. Rather, they were following the UK protocols, which are different than the US ones.

All of us are trying to be protective of ABC and JG, who are too young to be vaccinated. Realistically, B, T, and I also need to stay COVID-free to be able to travel back to the US in January. Fingers crossed that the travel and visiting policies stay stable so that there are no more glitches, delays, or restrictions.

But, hey, we’ve already shown we are flexible, if need be.

alarm

Because of family circumstances, I have spent most of the last six years focused on taking care of various generations, fitting in some writing and environmental/social justice advocacy as time and energy allowed.

During all those years, there has been an undercurrent of increasing alarm and distress over the unraveling of the social structure and government of the United States.

The roots of the current dysfunction predate the Trump candidacy and presidency. While there has always been racism, discrimination, and prejudice in the US, it became more overt during the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the first Black man to be elected to that office. There were wild conspiracies that President Obama had not been born in the United States, that he was secretly a Muslim terrorist, that he was going to take away all the civilian guns, and on and on.

During his presidency, we also saw the Republican party lying and fear-mongering about legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act. They blocked valid appointments to executive and judicial branch posts. It was the precursor to the current situation where the Republicans have essentially stopped cooperating in governing, even on previously non-partisan issues like raising the debt ceiling and voting rights. They have even blocked votes on nearly all the ambassadorial appointments, so that President Biden is in Europe for global meetings without having ambassadors in most of the countries involved.

The Trump presidency seemed to radicalize – or, at least, reveal unexpressed sentiments of – a swath of the electorate who, through fear or inability to distinguish between truth and lies, have perpetrated or suffered harm because of it.

The largest amount of suffering and death are due to the lies about COVID-19, possible treatments, and vaccines. Because Trump, his administration, and some Republican governors did not convey and act on the evolving medical and research science, the numbers of Republicans/Trump voters who have been sickened or have died from the infection is disproportionately high. It’s sad and appalling. It’s also made it impossible to tamp down community spread in the ways needed to end the pandemic and get our country to the point of establishing a “new normal.” I’m trying to be hopeful that the impending authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged five to eleven will help to cut down community spread; it may well in some regions, such as the Northeast where I live, that have higher rates of teen and adult immunization, but in places where the majority of adults remain unvaccinated despite almost a year of availability, a higher proportion of people will continue to get sick and die. Those people will include vaccinated people because no vaccine is 100% effective and some people, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, do not build up as strong an immunity from the vaccines. They need the additional protection of being surrounded by vaccinated people so that the virus can’t find enough vulnerable people to infect and stops spreading.

The more terrifying impact for the future of the country is the millions of people who now believe that our elections are rigged and that President Biden is not rightfully serving as president. Court cases, recounts, and audits have shown over and over again that Biden beat Trump. Investigative journalism and official investigations are continuing to reveal how some members of the Trump administration tried to engineer overturning the election results. Some of these machinations boiled over into the attempted insurrection on January 6th, which, even though much of it was recorded and has been attested to by Trump supporters who were participants, many Republican officeholders claim was not really an insurrection. Many Congressional Republicans refuse to even state the obvious truth that Joe Biden was fairly elected president, despite there being no credible evidence of wide-spread election fraud.

Cynically, these same Republicans are now voting against legislation that will strengthen voting rights to ensure that all eligible voters can have their say in our elections, even as some states are acting to restrict voting rights and putting in place partisan election officials or even giving state legislatures the power to appoint presidential electors pledged to the candidate that did not win the popular vote.

These kinds of things are terrifying because they have occurred in the past when autocrats have come to power. I have heard several interviews with Timothy Synder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which are stark reminders of parallels between recent currents in the US and a number of countries in Europe in the last century where democracy was subverted by fascism, Nazism, or communism. (Ironically, many current Republicans try to paint Democrats or Independents as being socialist or communist when they are actually continuing to espouse capitalism and US constitutional values.) There have also been several more recent books looking specifically at the current state of democracy in the US, including Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could by Rep. Adam Schiff.

While I know my own reach is limited, I make sure I post facts about vaccines and the pandemic. I also post facts about the political situation. Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president. The Republican party has no current policy platform, having carried over the 2016 platform at the 2020 convention instead of writing a new one that addresses current issues such as COVID and increased incidence of violence against people of color, people of faith, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Rather the Republican minority leaders in Congress, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell, instruct their caucuses to vote against all Democratic proposals with only rare exceptions, such as the Senate infrastructure bill.

Tuesday is Election Day. In New York State this year, the elections being contested are local but there are several state-wide ballot propositions which will strengthen our voting laws. I will proudly vote in favor of all those propositions.

I also will continue to participate in civil discussion whenever the opportunity presents itself. Granted, there are not many opportunities these days, but I will continue to try.

Pfizer booster

As part of my ongoing participation in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine phase III trial, yesterday I received a third vaccine injection, seven and a half months after my second. There was a blood draw to test levels of antibodies, T cells, etc. and the blood work will be repeated in a year. I will continue a weekly symptom check through a phone app and have a couple of phone appointments over the next year, too. The data collected will be used to inform on-going decisions about how often boosters may be needed in the future.

I’m fortunate that my side effects have been milder than they were with the second injection. I have a very sore arm, which is obviously from the shot. I’m tired and have a bit of a headache, which could be side effect and could be just life in general these days. Today is the one-month anniversary of Paco’s death, so how I am feeling could be attributable to that rather than to vaccine side effects. When spouse B and daughter T, who are also study participants, received their third doses, they both lost a day to fever, body aches, and fatigue; because I had had a similar reaction to my second dose, I was expecting a similar experience, but apparently have lucked out.

In the United States, a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine is approved for those aged 65 and up, people who have medical risk, and those in certain professions that have close contact with vulnerable populations. It’s possible that the third dose will be recommended more generally in the future as more data become available. It’s also likely that emergency use authorization for children aged 5-11 will come soon, with shots in arms starting in early November.

Recommendations on booster doses for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are expected soon, as well as the possibility of mixing manufacturers, for example, someone who had the J&J vaccine having a booster from Pfizer. All the companies are continuing to study the vaccines for long-term efficacy and side effects, as well as safety, efficacy, and dosage for children six months through seventeen years. Currently, in the United States, only Pfizer is approved for ages 12-17.

Another helpful development is that Merck has applied for emergency use authorization of molnupiravir, an oral anti-viral to combat COVID. It would be given to patients in the early stages in hopes of keeping their illness from becoming severe. While it is already possible to give treatments by injection or infusion, such as monoclonal antibodies, this medication would be easy to prescribe and administer for home use. A decision by the FDA is expected within weeks.

Meanwhile, over the summer, COVID cases were devastating parts of the US, especially states with low vaccination rates. Total fatalities are over 700,000 with over 44 million cases recorded. In some areas, hospitals were so overwhelmed that they had to send patients out of state to receive care. This applied to COVID patients and also to patients suffering from other serious conditions. Two states, Idaho and Alaska, had to implement crisis standards of care, which means that whether or not an individual receives treatment beyond comfort care is determined by the likelihood of survival as there is not enough capacity to treat everyone that needs help. This resulted in non-COVID deaths from heart attack, stroke, etc. – patients who ordinarily would have been treated successfully but who died because there were not personnel, equipment, and space available to treat them due to intensive care units being filled with COVID patients.

The delta variant was the power behind the summer surge, but, at least, the fear of it encouraged more people to seek vaccination. The increase in vaccination rates is helping the case numbers to fall at this point. Still, the current rate of fully vaccinated people is only 57% with 66% receiving at least one dose. I am hopeful that the Pfizer vaccine being approved for elementary age children in the coming weeks will add significantly to our vaccination totals, at least in states where the vaccination rate among adults is higher.

There are still terrifying amounts of misinformation floating around about the vaccines that are keeping some people from taking them. Unfortunately, this is keeping the pandemic alive, resulting in illness, death, lack of access to medical care, and the possibility of even more dangerous new variants developing.

We are all in this together. Please, everyone, get vaccinated if you are eligible and follow reputable public health guidelines on masking, avoiding crowds, handwashing, etc. Your choices affect your family, friends, neighbors and community directly and your nation and the world, as well. We can’t truly end this pandemic until there’s no population anywhere still vulnerable to COVID-19.

If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for someone you love.

Pfizer vaccine approval

Today, August 23, 2021, the United States Food and Drug Administration has announced the full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, for people aged 16 and up. People aged 12-15 are still being immunized under the emergency use authorization. It is also expected that, in the coming weeks, Pfizer will apply for emergency use authorization for children aged 5-11. Research is ongoing on children 6 months-4 years. Also, most adults will become eligible for a third dose to boost immunity, given from 8-12 months after the second dose.

Meanwhile, both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the other two vaccines available under emergency use authorization in the US, are continuing their research and applications to expand their age ranges and gain full approval, too.

It’s possible that, for some people who have been reluctant to be vaccinated, the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine might be enough to convince them to receive it. The US has seen many more shots being administered in recent weeks as the delta variant has surged and people realize that nearly all the people being hospitalized and dying are those who were unvaccinated. Unfortunately, it takes several weeks to build immunity from the vaccine so the delta surge will likely continue into the coming months.

The other expected impact of the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine is that more employers may mandate that their workers be immunized before returning to in-person work and more businesses may require immunization (or alternatively a recent negative test) for their patrons.

As regular readers may remember, my spouse B, daughter T, and I are all part of the Pfizer Phase III trial for the vaccine. B and T were lucky enough to receive the actual vaccine in August 2020 while I wound up being in the placebo group. When the vaccine received emergency use authorization, the study was unmasked so that people in the placebo group could receive the vaccine, which I did in February 2021. I will continue to be followed as part of the original study through August 2022. B and T, meanwhile, have entered into the third dose phase of the study. They will be providing data for the continued study of how much immunity boost occurs with the third dose and how long it lasts.

I continue to mourn for all those who are suffering as a result of the pandemic. Please, everyone, listen to the public health specialists in your area, receive the vaccine as soon as it is available to you, and mask, distance, and wash hands as directed. Please, do everything you can to protect the health of yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

SoCS: more on covid and vaccines

Here in the US, we are facing another wave of COVID. I think it is considered our fourth wave, but that has become pretty hard to define over the many months of the pandemic. What is different this time is that this wave is almost exclusively confined to the unvaccinated population, at least in terms of serious illness, hospitalizations, and mortality.

In New York State, where I live, the Northeast in general, and a few other states with high vaccination rates, you are seeing case numbers climb somewhat, largely because the delta variant is causing more breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, but you aren’t seeing extreme impacts on hospitals being overwhelmed and lots of serious illness and deaths.

In states like Missouri and Mississippi, with low vaccination rates, we are seeing conditions that look like the early days of the pandemic in New York, with hospitals overflowing with very sick patients, more than they have space, equipment, and personnel to handle. While in the first-wave, most of the very ill were elderly, now we are seeing that most of the very ill are younger adults. Even in these low-vaccination-rate states, the elderly are the ones most likely to have been vaccinated, so they are less impacted by this current wave, even with the delta variant making up a larger and larger share of infections.

As people who read Top of JC’s Mind from time to time may recall, I, spouse B, and daughter T are all part of the Phase III trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. B and T both were in the original vaccine group and were vaccinated last August. They are now both enrolled in the follow-on study of booster shots and their efficacy. Like the original study, it is double-blind, so neither the participants nor the researchers know who received the actual booster and who received the placebo injection.

However, B and T are both having side effects similar to their other doses of the vaccine, so we are pretty sure that they got real booster shots, not placebos. For the record, last August, I got placebo shots. When the study was unmasked after the emergency use authorization was approved, I was offered the real vaccine, which I got in February. I remain in the study as part of the design to follow participants for at least two years. I don’t know if I might, in the future, wind up participating in a follow-on study for boosters as well. It will depend on how the results of the booster study that B and T are now in play out and whether more data is needed. It’s also possible that Pfizer may re-formulate in response to current and future variants and need a pool of test subjects for that. My family will continue to participate as long as we can be of use to help advance the science and protect public health.

It is so very sad to know how many people are suffering from COVID, especially now that we do have good vaccines available. I’m sad for people in countries or regions that don’t have access to the vaccine. I’m upset that there are so many who do have access but still remain unvaccinated, often because of misinformation about COVID and about the vaccines. Choosing to remain unvaccinated doesn’t just impact the individual’s health if they get infected. It also impacts public health, giving the virus more opportunities to mutate and create new variants. It also can spread the virus to others, which is especially dangerous if those people are also unvaccinated. Sadly, we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations of children, who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination, and teens, who are eligible but still have low vaccination rates in many states. Earlier this week, the state of Tennessee announced that it is ending all vaccine outreach to teens. It would be bad enough if this was just COVID vaccine but they are also ending outreach for other vaccines, like TDaP, HPV, hepatitis, and MMR boosters.

It’s appalling.

Please, everyone, remember that we are still in a pandemic – and will be until we can get COVID under control globally. If you have access to vaccines, please take them for your own good and for the good of others. Everyone needs to be vigilant to following public health and infection prevention measures recommended by public health professionals in your region.

COVID doesn’t care about your political views or whether or not you believe it exists. It is a virus that is just looking for a host to make it possible for it to replicate as many copies of itself as possible. If you are infected, you might be lucky and have mild symptoms, but you could pass it on to someone who might become seriously ill or even die. Or you might be unlucky and become seriously ill or die yourself.

The virus won’t care.

Your loved ones will.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to base your post on your least favorite word. I don’t often think of having a favorite or least favorite word, but I thought that COVID definitely qualified as being my least favorite entity at the moment. If you’d like to join in with SoCS, you can find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/07/16/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-17-2021/

Vaccinated and (mostly) unmasked

Shortly after I wrote this post, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidance regarding mask wearing/distancing among fully vaccinated people in response to newly published research findings.

The good news is that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks indoors with extremely low risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus. Mask wearing is still recommended in medical settings such as hospitals. Requirements to mask on public transport remain in effect, as do any mandates or policies put in place by state/local governments and businesses.

The bad news is that people who are not fully vaccinated might also stop wearing masks – and wouldn’t stand out because others would just assume if they weren’t wearing a mask that they were vaccinated – and so could be exposing themselves and their contacts to coronavirus, which would drive up infection rates. This is not helped by states that have already dropped their mask mandates or never had them in the first place.

Some governors immediately dropped their mask mandates while others, such as Governor Cuomo of New York where I live, are reviewing the situation before making any changes.

Personally, I expect that I, though vaccinated, will not be making many changes in my mask behavior immediately. The few stores that I frequent are likely to keep their mask policies in place for now. Visiting my father in the health care building of his senior community will probably still require masking because, although they are vaccinated, the residents are still vulnerable due to their age and underlying health problems. If the state does drop the mask mandate, small businesses, such as hair salons and restaurants, may decide to let vaccinated customers unmask and could easily ask for proof of vaccination to give peace of mind to their employees and customers.

I am frustrated by the media commentary surrounding this CDC announcement. For weeks, commentators have been complaining that the CDC was too slow in changing its recommendations for vaccinated people and that it was a disincentive to get vaccinated. The CDC was waiting for additional scientific findings to be published before making changes, but, now that they have, the commentators are complaining that it happened too fast.

They are also complaining that the CDC guidance is confusing. It’s not. It is meant for use on an individual level and it’s very clear about what activities fully vaccinated individuals can do without masking/distancing and what activities unvaccinated people can do without masking/distancing. The CDC and the federal government are not the ones with authority to require masks in stores, churches, etc. State and local governments and businesses do that.

So, please, everyone, stop whining, learn about the recommendations from the CDC and the policies in place in your local area, and behave accordingly for the safety of yourself and others.

If you are eligible for vaccination but haven’t done it yet, make arrangements to do so as soon as possible so you don’t become seriously ill or pass the virus on to someone else.

Remember to be kind and respectful to others. Some vaccinated people will choose to continue wearing masks because they are immunocompromised and more susceptible. I know people with allergies who are continuing to mask outdoors to protect themselves from high pollen counts. Some parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated wear their masks to be a good example for their children. It is not your business to criticize someone else’s decision and masking is never a wrong choice when it comes to public health. In some countries, masks have been common for years, especially during flu season or when there are air quality problems.

The CDC recommendations rely on public trust. Unvaccinated people need to demonstrate that they are worthy of trust by following the public health guidance. Overall infection and death rates are down, but they will spike again if people don’t continue to vaccinate and mask/distance until they complete the vaccine process. A spike might not happen until colder weather drives more people indoors, but it won’t happen at all if we can get the vast majority of teens and adults vaccinated by fall.

The prospect of the epidemic phase of COVID-19 being over by fall is within reach, but only if people follow this guidance and get vaccinated.

Let’s do it!

Another Pfizer vaccine advance

Yesterday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was granted emergency use authorization for children aged 12-15, extending the prior age range of 16+. These younger teens can receive the same dosage as older teens with similar effect. This is good news because all high school and most middle school students should be able to be protected before schools open in August or September 2021.

Pfizer and other vaccine suppliers are currently studying the proper dosage for younger children. These eventual approvals will probably be split into several groups, 5-11-year-olds, 2-4, and 6-23 months. The research with these younger children takes longer because they have to start with lower doses and increase to find the lowest possible dose that will still mount a strong immune response. Until these children can be vaccine protected, they need for all the teens and adults to get vaccinated to reduce their chances of being exposed. While young children tend to be less sick than adults if they get infected, they can become very ill, even fatally, and suffer long-term symptoms. Even if they have mild or no symptoms, they also keep the community spread of the virus going, which means that the pandemic phase cannot end.

Canada gave authorization for 12-15 for the Pfizer vaccine last week. It’s expected that Moderna will be doing so soon. Pfizer has also applied for full authorization in the US, a process that will take several months to complete. I am especially pleased with the success of the Pfizer vaccine because data from spouse B and daughter T are part of the research findings that are showing how safe and effective the vaccine is. Monitoring for them continues to see how long immunity lasts and whether boosters are needed. I also continue to participate in the trial, but, because I was originally part of the placebo group, I didn’t receive the vaccine until February so my data are not useful for the longevity factor, although I could become part of a test group for boosters in the future if warranted.

Internationally, vaccine companies are continuing their research and manufacturing, but distribution is neither fast nor broad enough. India is particularly tragic, with widespread disease, scant treatment, and, despite being a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, very little vaccine protection among its residents. President Biden has joined growing calls for vaccine companies to suspend their patent protections so that countries around the world can manufacture vaccines for their regions. This would also entail making available the raw materials, supplies, and expertise to manufacture the vaccines, some of which require new techniques such as mRNA.

I feel an odd mix of hope, dread, and sorrow. The COVID rate in New York State where I live is very low now. We are gradually relaxing some of our restrictions and I am planning to go on a writing retreat later this month. This summer, we think we are finally going to be able to travel to the UK to visit daughter E and her family and get to hold our granddaughter JG for the first time, although she is almost walking on her own and may not want to stop long enough to be held by the time we can get there.

At the same time, there are still people sick and dying in my state and exponentially more in other states and countries. It’s frustrating because we have treatment tools and vaccines now that we didn’t have a year ago but they aren’t reaching all the people that need them. What’s most frustrating is people who do have access but don’t take advantage of the opportunity, letting their fear, ideology, contrariness, or sense of invincibility stand in the way of personal and public health.

Please, everyone, continue to do all that is within your power to end the pandemic. This will look different depending on personal and community circumstances, but mask in indoor public spaces, distance when appropriate, be careful about the size of gatherings, stay home if you are sick, vaccinate when it’s available for you, keep up to date on the newest public health recommendations.

Show your respect for others and do your best to protect them. Pandemics are, by definition, phenomena that affect us all. It takes all of us working together to end one.

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