Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — April 14, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 251.  Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

         Q:  Everyone getting vaccinated is feeling joyous.  But how well are we really doing? 

         A:  We all know that vaccines work.  The more people who get vaccinated, the more they become immune from being infected.  The more rapidly the percentage of people becoming vaccinated rises, the slower new mutations will develop.  Let’s continue to check on how that important metric is progressing,

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated

 

March 24March 31April 7
18.6%20.4%%39.1%
       – Source: Covid Act Now.com

 

Vaccination Fact #2: The data on our COVID vaccinations only goes back to the clinical trials that scientifically studied their risks and effectiveness leading to FDA approvals.  These trials are continuing and we learn more about the vaccines over time.  One study is how long the immunization will last.  So far, scientists have determined that the protection from infection lasts for at least 6 months – the period studied so far.  This estimate may be extended as demonstration of immunity continues over time.

As of last week Wednesday, 39.1% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, which was 19.3% more than a week before.  This was a significant increase.

252. An insight: “Oh, I get it now!”

        Q:  I get so confused about public health statistics; I don’t even read them anymore!

        A:  Try this… please read on, we’ll make it short!  Children.  Birthday parties.  Musical chairs.  A circle of 10 chairs with children.  The music starts and the kids get up and walk around the chairs.  One chair is taken away, and the music stops.  The child who cannot sit down leaves the group and after a bit the music starts again.  As this is repeated, if an average of 9 children for every 10 has to leave the group. The ratio by which the number remain after the group shrinks will be 9 out of ten.  The shorthand way to say this is .9 is the ratio of children remaining with chairs.  Instead of “children with chairs,” substitute “COVID-infected patients.”  If a group of 10 COVID-infected patients infect only 9 new patients, the “rate of infection” would be .9.  If the rate of infection is below 1.0, the disease will eventually disappear.   Did this help?  Can you now say, “Oh, I get it now!”

253. Science and data should be used to decide when our UUS:E can reopen.

         Q. When will UUS:E reopen the church for indoor activities and services?

         A. The State of Connecticut has established minimal guidelines that allow many groups to reopen. We see examples all around us.  The need to “return to normal” is universal, and lowering the standards for restaurants, businesses, theaters, and sports events satisfy our economic and psychological interests.  But are they safe?  Look at some of the data that frames Connecticut now, as these loosening of restrictions are made:

  • Less than half the population is fully vaccinated,
  • The percentage of Connecticut’s population being infected with COVID has risen dramatically since March 1,
  • the infection rate that defines if the number of infected patients is rising or going down shows a steadily increasing surge since February 1.

As a general observation, states all around the country have opened up as soon as it looked like COVID was getting under control, only to reimpose restrictions later.  This cycle has happened over and over again.  Right now, Connecticut and most of the other states are beginning what the CDC is calling the “Fourth Surge” of COVID cases.

The good news is that there are several data sources that can serve as “prevention predictors.”  If the percentage of the population being vaccinated rises to a high enough level, there will not be enough people remaining without immunity to become infected.  That data can be used along with others to better predict when it will be safe to reopen.  The Emergency Preparedness Task Force at UUS:E has begun examining these “prevention predictors” to answer that important question of reopening.  One key prevention predictor will require children to be authorized by the FDA to receive their shots, and vaccinations delivered before that safe level of population can be reached.  That may take at least until September, 2021.  Updates on the essential data being reviewed and the predictions they point toward will be reported frequently in future FAQ columns.

 254. Compliance with CDC guidelines will shorten the time to control COVID

          Q:  How do people refusing to use masks when shopping affect the control of COVID?

          A:  The Atlantic published an article on April 4 that was highlighted: “vaccinated and unvaccinated people are getting more lax with behavior at a time when vigilance really matters.”  This article was authored by Katherine J. Wu, Ph.D., who is a science and health reporter for the New York Times.  She holds her degree in microbiology and immunobiology from Harvard University.  She is writing about people who are struggling to navigate the new world of partially vaccinated people. “Even as infection rates tick up again, people are bending, stretching, and breaking the rules,” she states.  When she wrote the article, only about one-fifth of the population had been vaccinated.  At that point, the CDC had given the okay for vaccinated people to visit others who live in the same households without wearing masks.  Yet people were openly visiting anyone in small groups anywhere.  She also points out that “across the country, states are rushing to lift mask mandates, tolerance for social distancing is flagging, and vaccinated people are amending the new guidelines as they see fit.”  She continues, “Amid all the fudging, the sentiment is starting to become a constant refrain: ‘Really, what’s the harm?’

She answers that question by saying, “The harm is frankly mathematical.  Over time, our vaccine cheat days start to add up.  Now is not the time to relax – quite the opposite.  The problem is our lapses don’t just slow us down.  They set us back in the same way that repeatedly opening the oven door will prolong the time it takes to bake a cake (and, at worst, make your delicious cake collapse).  Having made so much progress, we risk a lot with our impatience.  And right now, we’re in serious danger of botching our grand pandemic finale.”

She quotes an expert in behavioral economics that it’s human tendency to take any ambiguity or uncertainty in guidance and spin it toward a most favorable outcome.  People are always looking for a loophole to justify what they want to do.  Another factor was discussed.  At the beginning, the perception of risk from the unknown was threatening.  Compliance with guidelines was easier.  But with vaccinations, people have the perception of reduced risk and greater safety.  This shift in perception leads to a lessening of compliance with existing guidelines.

Dr Wu concludes her discussion with a warning, “we can’t take the pandemic’s endgame for granted.”  To forestall the possibility of new mutations occurring, “we still have to consider our collective risk, not just our risk as individuals,”

255. More evidence of blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine.

         Q:  Is it true that the AstraZeneca vaccine is still producing blood clots in patients?

         A:  In Europe, the agency that reviews vaccines and therapeutics for safety and effectiveness is known as the European Medicines Agency (EMU).   This agency is the equivalent to our Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The EMA recently reported very rare cases of blood clots forming in patients who had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine.  Political leaders in more than a dozen countries in the EU have requested they stop using this vaccine, and an emergency meeting has been called.  This marks the second time that AstraZeneca has been challenged with this same finding.  Public health officials have again reported that “the risk to the general public of getting a serious blood clot is very small compared to the risks from possible COVID-19 infections – which itself can also cause similar clots.  AstraZeneca is the most available vaccine in Europe, and it costs less than other vaccines.  This political perception of threat is having a dramatic effect of slowing down the vaccination of people in Europe.  It is distressing to see how risks can be perceived so differently.  This is one case where the cost of the cure is NOT greater than the disease itself, despite public perceptions.