Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — March 3, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 221.  National COVID-19 Strategic Plan – (Part 6 of 8)

         Q:  What’s in the new United States strategic plan for controlling this pandemic?

         A: On January 21, 2021, President Joe Biden released the 198-page National Strategy for the            COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.  This week’s summary gives details about:

Goal 5 — Safely reopen schools, businesses
and travel while protecting workers.

The plan states, “The United States is committed to ensuring that students and educators are able to resume safe, in-person learning as quickly as possible, with the goal of getting a majority of K-8 schools safely open in 100 days.”  The strategy for safely reopening schools, businesses and travel will:

  • Ensure adequate supplies;
  • Guarantee full access to FEMA disaster relief and emergency assistance for K-12;
  • Support implementing COVID-19 testing;
  • Develop and release detailed technical guidance on safely reopening schools;
  • Working with state and local officials to understand barriers and to shape policy;
  • Create a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse;
  • Track progress toward school reopening and the use of federal funds; and
  • Support learning – no matter the setting.

Next week: details about Goal 6 – Protect those more at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.

 222. A key Issue has surfaced with vaccination scheduling – before March 1, 2021

         Q. Has anything changed since last week on the vaccination program?

         A. An announcement made by governor Lamont over a week ago has resulted in some controversy. Nationally, the CDC recommended the states follow a uniform guideline for scheduling groups to sequentially open their eligibility for vaccinations.  The first several groups were identified with discrete groups:  hospital workers, nursing homes, firefighters, police officers, etc.  This was followed by age criteria – age over 75, and later over age 65.  The Governor and the state COVID advisory committee reviewed the remaining groups such as individuals with identified health conditions, and “essential workers” at various locations.  It is suspected there was concern about how these individuals could prove their eligibility.  Hospital workers and firefighters can be vaccinated at their facilities.  Age can be proved by a state ID or driver’s license.  But how does a bus driver or a person with multiple sclerosis demonstrate their qualifications?  How easy might it be for a healthy unemployed person wanting a vaccination to “jump the line” and simply, falsely, claim an eligible condition?  This raises the need to find a better way to clarify each individual’s eligibility to apply for an appointment.  The state has the authority to decide the eligibility requirements for vaccinations.  The decision was reached to ignore the CDC suggestion and substitute a continuation of grouping people by decreasing age.  An examination showed a correlation of the numbers of people with relevant health conditions decreasing with decreasing age.   So the age criteria were announced and are now in place: ages 55 and over – starting March 1; ages 45 and over – starting March 22; ages 35 and over – starting April 12, and ages 16 and over – starting May 3.

For months, those who are young but who have a relevant health condition, or who work in an essential job such as bagging groceries, were expecting to become vaccinated in just a few days.  Now they are told it may be months or longer before they can find this protection.  Their shared expectations were suddenly changed.  The resulting unpredictability has resulted in protests, anger and frustration.  Controversy is evident and becoming more vocal over time.  The problem now is should the governor  change back to the CDC guidelines, everyone in the now-designated age groups would be made upset because their expectations would become unpredictable.  The “lesson learned” is that for future planning, time must be taken to identify alternatives early, then create expectations that will be more likely to remain in place.

223. Clarification of the goal of vaccination – to prevent serious disease and death.

         Q:  Which of now 3 approved vaccines should I take?

         A:  There is much debate about which of the three now-approved vaccines are the most effective, hence which should I want to receive?   Part of this discussion is the speculation and emerging (but not yet conclusive) evidence on how each of the three vaccines affect the growing number of variant COVID-19 cases.  There is a current consensus of scientists and epidemiologists that once you are eligible, you should get the first vaccine that is offered.  In fact, at any vaccination site, there is only one choice available – the vaccine that is available at that site.  Any delay waiting to find a site that has your “favorite” choice only delays the point where the number of infected people become low enough to slow the number of emerging mutants or variants to reduce this as an issue.  Most people want to become vaccinated so they won’t become Ill.  But we already have been told that many vaccinated people may become infected, yet remain asymptomatic.  They can still spread the disease to others.  This concept is now being expanded to refine the message: the goal of vaccinations is not to prevent one from becoming infected, it is to prevent one from becoming seriously ill, i.e., hospitalized, requiring a ventilator or becoming a fatality.  All three vaccines have clearly demonstrated the same high degree of efficiency in achieving that goal.

224. “Booster shots may be required for some people to continue COVID immunity.

         Q:  Will we have to get annual booster shots for COVID like we do for the seasonal flu?

         A:  This is a possibility, but remains a decision to be made in the future.  The science behind the rapid creation of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is based on creating a partial sample of the COVID-19 ribonuclear acid.  That partial sample is not able to replicate itself to spread infections to other cells, but is a memory of the whole (mRNA) that can stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy future complete and infectious coronavirus-19 varioles.  As coronavirus cells mutate, scientists can now identify any of the RNA that may have changed, and create modified mRNA to be readily included in updated vaccines.  In fact, some of these modified mRNA fragments are already being incorporated in the vaccines currently being produced.  Once the pandemic is under control, the possibility exists that variants will then be present that are found to reduce the effectiveness of the mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines.  It also may be found that immunity may become reduced over time.  If so, development of a “booster shot” can easily be developed and deployed to sustain the current effort underway.

225. CDC guidance is pending on safe practices for vaccinated people.

         Q:  My friend and I just finished our vaccination shots.  He wants me to travel and “return to normal” with him.  What do I tell him?

         A:  It remains the CDC guidance that anyone recently vaccinated must continue to take the same basic precautions: wear a mask, keep socially distant from others, and wash hands often.  Remember, it is still possible for a vaccinated person to become infected, and without symptoms, pass the disease along to others.  But the CDC is aware that more specific guidance is needed as more and more people are become vaccinated and tempted to relax their vigilance.  The CDC has just announced new and expanded guidelines are being created, and will be released very soon.  It will be wise to follow their advice to be patient and wait before assuming that for each vaccinated person, the long wait is over.