There is no doubt that America and the world have experienced an extraordinary two years. And we continue to battle the terrifying novel coronavirus –COVID-19 — and its apparently even worse Delta variant, as well as the newest threat, Omicron, and other emerging variants.
Looking backward, what lessons have we learned as we move forward?
Vaccines Can Be Manufactured More Quickly Than We Thought — And They Work
Operation Warp Speed (OWS) was a major accomplishment, ironically forged by a partnership between the U.S. federal government and the pharmaceutical industry, despite the anti-vaccine and anti-science views of the Trump Administration, which led to the eventual rollout of multiple COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021. They were, as we all know, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The first two are messenger RNA (mRNA); the J&J vaccine contains a bit of a vector virus that does not cause COVID-19. All three vaccines were studied for decades but did not have approval for use; all three were released by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under emergency use authorization (EUA).
The vaccine rollout under the pro-science Biden Administration hit a few bumps but was largely successful thanks to decisive steps taken and to OWS and the groundwork laid by the Trump Administration.
And here’s another lesson: with the success shared by two Administrations that are like night and day and have an uneasy relationship — to put it mildly — imagine the optimal results if our leaders of all stripes could get on the same page and work together to solve major problems that face our nation.
By the Fourth of July last year, nearly 70% of Americans had received at least one dose of a vaccine, and by fall boosters were available. Moreover, because more children began testing positive, vaccines for children under 12 were rolled out. These vaccinations have saved lives, as well as our way of life. It is important to note that the vaccinations do not prevent COVID-19 from infecting us; rather they protect us from becoming seriously ill, hospitalized, hooked up to a ventilator and dying.
Tragically, today we continue to experience a stark disparity between areas with high vaccination rates and those with low vaccination rates. Thousands of needless deaths have occurred due to resistance to safe, life-saving vaccinations, and we find ourselves presently in what some have termed, “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Of course, not all unvaccinated people are hard-core anti-vaxxers. But to the detriment of the nation at large, the massive amount of misinformation , disinformation and wild myths continuing to spread through social and local media has contributed to many people remaining unvaccinated through fear and confusion. Much of the vaccine resistance is also rooted in politics and religion. And as many declare their freedom from the vaccines, and flout not only science but respect and concern for the wellbeing of others, the irony is that becoming vaccinated is precisely how we defeat a deadly pandemic that in actuality is limiting our freedom.
Medically speaking, however, while the vast majority of Americans and those in other countries who have been vaccinated reportedly have experienced few serious reactions or side effects, there are some legitimate concerns among the relatively small percentage of those who are allergic to the ingredients of a particular COVID-19 vaccine, or who have had allergic reactions to other vaccines. For myself, and among my family, friends and acquaintances of varying ages, reactions to the vaccines have ranged from hardly none at all to a few days under the weather with sore arms and flu-like symptoms; but we all bounced back and were fine.
Resorting to vaccine mandates just might be helping to increase initial vaccinations and boosters — just as laws are passed and regulations are imposed when people, either as individuals or heads of organizational structures, do not do what they should — or do what they should not do — for whatever reasons, thereby harming the nation as a whole. There is solid evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines work, and as more Americans become vaccinated and boosted, not only will lives be saved and the quality of lives be preserved and improved, but also the strain on our healthcare system will be relieved and our economic recovery will be more quickly realized.
My faith in the COVID-19 vaccines was confirmed recently when my husband and I, who are fully vaccinated, visited with three friends who were also fully vaccinated (but not yet boosted), for a few hours, indoors and unmasked, according to CDC guidelines. Shortly after our visit, we were notified that one of our friends felt ill and tested positive. We had a few days of angst, but the rest of us tested negative and our friend who tested positive recovered relatively quickly. Since then, two family members who were fully vaxxed and boosted had a similar exposure situation, and they tested negative. These are strong testaments to the efficacy of the vaccines.
The medical community, rightly so, is not resting on its laurels with the current vaccines; here’s what’s in the pipeline:
- Pfizer and Moderna are developing modified vaccines to target Omicron.
- Vaccine researchers are working on a vaccine that will target multiple coronaviruses at once — a “pancoronavirus vaccine.”
- A medical team at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine have developed a vaccine that will help economically compromised countries control the pandemic.
All of these efforts will help the world recover from this pandemic and help to prevent one in the future. By its very definition, the pandemic must be controlled globally to benefit everyone. No one will be able to travel freely to other countries unless the pandemic is ended everywhere.
The Importance — and Complications — Of Testing
Testing got off to a slow and rocky start early in 2020, with contaminated and flawed test kits and limited testing due to political priorities and dysfunction in the federal government. At the time, then President Trump explained his reasoning for limiting testing: “And don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.” Hmmm…what is the lesson here, do you suppose?
In August 2020. the CDC adjusted its recommendation for who should be tested, suggesting that people who have been exposed to the virus but are not showing symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”
There are two basic types of COVID-19 tests: PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and Antigen (rapid diagnostic test). The PCR test is performed at a designated test site; the swabs are sent to a lab and the results are usually reported within 24-72 hours. Antigen tests can be performed at a test site as well, but they are also the kind of test that you can perform yourself with a home test kit; results are usually provided within an hour or so.
A word on home tests: Positive results tend to be accurate, so if you test positive, you should immediately isolate and follow up with your doctor or other healthcare professional for advice or treatment. Negative results are frequently false if they have not been administered at the proper time; for example, it is important that (1) if you have symptoms, test right away, and (2) if you know you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive, wait three to five days before you test to allow the virus to replicate and be detected by the test.
Recent reports also suggest that home tests do not work as well to detect Omicron, especially when infection is early on, and that a throat rather than a nasal swab is necessary. That said, the CDC cautions that home test kit instructions should be followed exactly, and we should not be swabbing throats –ours or anyone else’s — as not only will the test results be compromised, but we could do real physical harm to said throats! Throat tests should only be performed by a healthcare professional at a medical test site.
Finally, there are antibody tests to detect how much protection you might have against COVID-19; check with your healthcare provider as to whether such a test is right for you.
By the end of 2020, demand for tests had surged and strained the testing capacity. During 2021, the demand for testing dropped among the U.S. population because of the security that vaccines gave to many. With Omicron overrunning us now, the demand for home test kits and testing sites is again high and the availability of both is low.
Most Americans believe that the government was too slow in its response to reports of a novel coronavirus. thus allowing the virus to spread unchecked. The lesson learned is to be prepared, respond quickly, believe the science and tell the truth to the American people.
Before the vaccines were issues, the medical community was working hard to deliver effective treatments. The first one approved was remdesivir, an anti-viral drug available under the brand name, Veklury, by biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. Remdesivir was one of several treatments given to President Trump when he tested positive with COVID-19 in October 2020. Monoclonal antibodies were FDA-approved for treatment in November 2020. Here is a recap of treatments, both approved and being tested: Coronavirus Drug and Treatment Tracker.
Some Related Notes:
(1) Medical professionals urge that we all get our flu shots in addition to COVID shots.
(2) Pneumonia vaccines do not protect against COVID-19, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
(3) The two COVID-19 variants about which the CDC is most concerned right now are Delta and Omicron. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the Omicron variant; but we know it is even more easily spread, so although you are vaccinated and boosted you are being advised to follow the traditional best practices: wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer, and observe social distancing. Experts believe Omicron will peak within weeks from now.
We have learned many lessons about vaccines, testing and treatments from our political and medical leadership as well as our own experiences, and we will continue to learn more and respond accordingly. These lessons — both the good and bad experiences — have made us smarter. We have seen what happens when people and nations are distracted by nonsense and outright propaganda. We need to follow the science and the evidence and do our parts to end this pandemic.
If you have anything to add, or have a story to share, please feel free to comment! And, please join me for my Pandemic Lessons Learned Series – “Part Two: Masks, Hand-Washing and Distancing,” coming soon.
Until next time,
Previous posts on COVID-19 vaccinations: