A bit of good news is that the surge in cases and hospitalizations that resulted from ill-advised holiday travel and gatherings has declined. A second bit of hopeful news is that vaccines are getting into arms at a faster rate. Approximately 50 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been distributed to the states and approximately 60% have actually been administered. Additionally, vaccines by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Novavax are on the US horizon. Additional positive news on the COVID-19 treatment front is that the monoclonal antibody injections appear to PREVENT the development of the disease if administered early enough. The treatment was previously recognized as useful for high risk, COVID-19 test positive people who had been symptomatic for no more than 10 days. The recent study shows illness can be prevented in high-risk people, with antibody treatment being started (without a positive test or symptoms) after they have been in close contact with someone who has the disease. In both scenarios “high risk” includes a person age 65 or older, or a person who is obese or has diabetes. Anyone who meets either situation should discuss the option with their treating physician.
People of color have born a disproportionate share of the health, educational, and economic impact of COVID-19 and vaccination frequency is seeing the same trend. Black people are 3.5 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.5 times more likely to die compared to our white counterparts. In those 16 states which report COVID data by race, the rate of vaccination is two to three times higher in Caucasians than in African Americans. The explanation for this ongoing disparate result is not only in systemic barriers to access, but also because of the understandable hesitancy based on historical medical mistreatment of Black folks. The latter is not easy to overcome, but African American healthcare providers are here to show you that we have eagerly taken our vaccinations, believe in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and see vaccination as an opportunity to take better control of our destinies.
The last piece of bad news which we will address at this time is that of viral mutation. Viruses constantly change becoming a new strain, or model so to speak, as long as they are circulating at high levels. They only mutate (change) during replication. There are three foreign strains of concern at this point. One is from Great Britain and is present in over 30 US states. There is a Brazilian strain which was found in a person who had travelled to Minnesota from Brazil. Lastly, there is a South African strain which has been found in South Carolina and Maryland in people who had not been to South Africa. This means that there is already undiagnosed presence of this strain in those communities. All three of these strains are projected to spread more quickly although the lethality potential is not clear.
Our way out of this pandemic is for all of us to do everything we can to lessen spread of the disease and limit proliferation and therefore mutation. The US will achieve adequate protection when 75-80% of Americans have been vaccinated. Over 31 million Americans have been vaccinated and there are no known deaths from the vaccines and very few serious side effects. People are dying from COVID-19, not from vaccinations. Until the virus is no longer a problem, we must WEAR masks, WASH hands, and WATCH our distances! Please take the vaccine when your time comes so we can all get back to family and friends, jobs, school, travel, and leisure activities more quickly.
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association