Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — April 7, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

246.  Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

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

         A:  Many people are eagerly looking forward to getting rid of the COVID-19 disease.  There is raising political expectations to quickly reopen the economy.  Yet it’s truly difficult to know where we really are.  Especially now when science is telling us the number of cases are actually rising, and younger people are now more at risk than before.  Let’s begin by identifying measures that we can examine over time to chart how we are actually doing as we progress.  Take, for instance, vaccinations.

We all know that vaccines work.  The more people that are vaccinated, the more people become immune from being infected.  The more rapidly the percentage of people becoming vaccinated rises, the slower new mutations will develop.  Let’s start checking how that important metric is progressing,

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated

 

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

 

Vaccination Fact #1:  There are two ways to measure when people get vaccinated; when they get their first shot, or when they get the number of shots needed depending on the manufacturer.   For Johnson & Johnson, they become fully vaccinated after one shot.  For Pfizer and Moderna, full vaccination comes after two shots that are weeks apart.  The metric of “full vaccinations” is more accurate to determine those who have the greatest immunity from all the different vaccines.

As of last week Wednesday, 20.4% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, which was 1.6% more than a week before.

247. Experts agree that to fully control COVID, children need to be vaccinated.

         Q:  If herd immunity requires 75% to 90% of the population to be vaccinated, can we get there without children being inoculated?

         A:  Children can spread coronavirus-19 to other people.  It is estimated that children from birth to age 17 make up 22.1% of the U.S. population.  While it is true that there is wide variability by age on exposure opportunities to become infected and social interaction to spread the disease, the immunity controlling the infecting of others requires that children must be vaccinated.  “We’ll never get to that immunization level of herd immunity until we vaccinate kids,” says Jennifer Nayak, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.  Even if the U.S. reached herd immunity among just adults, local clusters of population below that protected status would allow the disease to continue being spread.  That’s where unvaccinated children may play a critical role, says Dominique Heinke, a researcher and epidemiologist in North Carolina.  Variants also play a role in this dynamic.  Vaughn Cooper, a microbiologist and molecular geneticist at the University of Pittsburgh, identifies that the Africa variant B.1.351 and Brazil variant P.1 can infect people with immunity from previous natural infections.  “That basically creates more chances for more infections in adults and more opportunities for transmission and subsequent evolution,” Cooper said.  “We’re not going to be able to stop that until we stop transmission among kids.”

None of the approved vaccines now in place were clinically tested for anyone under the age of 17.  Clinical trials are now underway for children ages 12 to 16.  The findings to date look promising for this age group, and approval may take place for vaccines to be administered to middle and high school aged students before the start of the next school year.  Testing for children from birth to age 11 is yet to be held and vaccination of these children will probably have to wait until 2022.

248. New therapeutics for those who contract COVID-19 are in development.

         Q. Are there any new drugs being tested to treat COVID?

         A. Pfizer, well known for its pioneering work on developing and testing a vaccine to prevent people from getting the disease, has developed an oral antiviral medication for people to take if they do get infected. Early trials have begun on this candidate drug, currently inauspiciously named as “PF-07321332.”  It is a protease inhibitor that prevents the virus cells from replicating in the host cells.  Pfizer is also studying an intravenous antiviral therapeutic for treating COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized.   Merck & Co., Roche Holding and Atea Pharmaceuticals are in mid trials for their different antiviral drugs.  The FDA has already issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Eli Lily for its drug Bamlanivimab alone and in combination with Etesevimab and a combination therapy with Regeneron.  There is even additional therapeutic research going on with obvious advances in treating patients who become infected.

 249. While we are entering a fourth surge of COVID-19, this one may be different.

         Q:  Why are the number of COVID cases  rising as more and more people are being vaccinated?

         A:  The people representing the number of rising cases are primarily those who have not been vaccinated.  While just over 20% of Connecticut people have been vaccinated, 4 out of 5 people have not.  The role of mutant or variant viruses may also play a role.  The infection rate of some of these variants means that a higher percentage of unvaccinated people are now more likely to get the disease than when the pandemic first emerged.  America as a nation is entering this fourth surge with a strong advantage over other countries.  We have a much stronger effort to produce and administer vaccines.  As we push toward the goal of herd immunity, we are curtailing the number of infected people providing the opportunity for new variants to emerge.  However, it has to be recognized that herd immunity is not a binary threshold; we are not all safe or all unsafe at any one time.  It is not a switch where we go instantly from one to the other.  Instead, it is a threshold where the continuing disease no longer can sustain itself over the long term.  Once herd immunity is achieved, people will still get sick and may die, but in steadily diminishing numbers.

250. Confusion and controversies delaying plans for a “COVID Passport.”.

         Q:  Where can I get a passport that verifies, I have been vaccinated?

         A:  Like so many components of our previous administration’s public health policies, the responses to COVID-19 have been fragmented, unrecognized or not planned in advance.  This has resulted in controversy and unexpected interruptions.  A “COVID passport” is an officially valid document that verifies the holder has been vaccinated.  In January, President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to assess the feasibility of digitally linking coronavirus vaccinations to previously existing vaccine cards also known as “international certificates of vaccinations or prophylaxis.”  Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to the current White House Coronavirus Team said a week ago that it is not the role of government to create such a document or to hold that kind of (medical) data on U.S. citizens.  Yet the Biden Administration will provide guidance to the private sector on this effort.  Slavitt projected that an ideal coronavirus passport should be free, equitable, secure, accessible, in multiple languages and be available both digitally and on paper.  The scope identifying the users of such a system remains unclear.  The travel industry is strongly advocating this to encourage passenger safety by allowing employees of airlines, cruise ships, bus and train services to deny boarding of those passengers who have not been vaccinated.  Others sponsoring concerts and sports events want to use this to identify those vaccinated before allowing entry to stadiums, arenas and theaters.  Politically, there is the expressed fear that coronavirus cards would lead to demands by employers to show proof of vaccinations (which many Republicans want to dissuade people from taking) before being hired.  Fear of publicly providing private, personal medical information is touted to discourage having such documentation.

Early in the vaccination process, the CDC cards filled out at vaccination sites were publicly discouraged from being posted on social media sites to proudly proclaim their vaccinated status.  People were cautioned that photocopies of these cards could easily be duplicated by those people who are opposed to being vaccinated to become eligible for travel or admission to large venues without getting their shots.  The CDC card does not have a photo on it to identify that the holder was the person who was vaccinated.  Also, not all vaccination sites provide these cards.  If a private company is to be awarded a contract to provide these passports, several other barriers remain.  Where is the data base located with the data of all vaccinated people located?   If pictures have to be included, do people have to appear somewhere for this?  There is much more discussion to take place before we will have coronavirus passports.