Variants, Vaccines, and a Light at the End of the Tunnel


25,401 Calvert residents have stepped up to receive COVID vaccinations. That’s 35% of the adult population of our county (27.5% of the population when you include children and teens). With vaccine supplies expected to increase over the next few weeks, it’s possible that everyone 16 and over will be able to get vaccinated by the early June. All three of the currently available vaccines have proven effective and safe. Not only has every major medical association in the U.S. strongly recommended vaccination, but I can say without hesitancy that your doctor does too.

A recent study from the University of Texas Medical Center looked at infection rates in close to 25,000 healthcare workers. There were approximately 8,000 people in each of three groups. The first had chosen not to be vaccinated. The second had received their first dose, but hadn’t completed their final dose. The third was completely vaccinated. During the study period, the number of people diagnosed with infections were 234 in the unvaccinated group, 112 in the partially vaccinated, and 4 in the fully vaccinated group. Studies at other settings across the U.S. have also shown stellar protection from vaccination.

Half of the entire population of Israel have completed their COVID vaccination series. Evidence has shown 97% protection against infection that causes people to feel sick, and 93% protection against any infection, even asymptomatic infection. That means that 93% of vaccinated people have no personal risk from COVID and pose no risk to those around them. That is critically important. We all come in contact people who are immunocompromised, even if we aren’t always aware that someone at work, church, or at the restaurant table next to us has a medical condition that leaves them at greater risk of complications from COVID.

For people who are significantly immunocompromised, it’s extremely important for them to get vaccinated, but it’s likely that the vaccine will not be as completely protective for them as for people with well-functioning immune systems. That’s why we all play a role in protecting our family members and neighbors.

There has been discussion of which vaccine is the best. The quick answer is that they have all proven to be close to 100% protective against hospitalization and death. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a bit less effective in preventing mild-moderate infections, but it carries the convenience of only needing one dose. Both Pfizer and Moderna are 2-dose vaccines, but as the Univ. of Texas and Israeli experiences have shown, are extremely effective at preventing even mild infections. For the moment, people aren’t able to choose which vaccine they receive, but everyone can be reassured that all three will dramatically decrease their personal risk and prevent spread through the community. Speaking of which…

Each of the past 4 weeks, the number of COVID cases in Calvert has climbed, and climbed significantly. Case counts have risen 2 ½-fold since mid-February and hospitalizations have increased. We have also seen higher incidence of infections among younger people, some with serious consequences. Last week, there were 3 people in their 30’s who were admitted to our local hospital due to complications of COVID. There is increasing attention to people of all ages who have long-term health problems, including fatigue, neurological symptoms, pain, and respiratory problems after COVID infections.

Why are infection rates increasing despite vaccinations leaving fewer susceptible people? Two main reasons have emerged. The first are COVID variants and the second are changes in people’s behaviors. In Maryland, two variants have been spreading since mid-February. The UK and California strains are more easily transmitted from person-to-person, and they are both more likely to cause severe disease than the original strain. The good news is that the vaccines have been effective against both of these variants.

It’s understandable that people have grown increasingly frustrated with the social limitations that COVID has brought. It’s been a full year of restrictions on gatherings, changes at work, and limits on travel. Even though a lot of people are rockin’ their masks (I’ve seen some great looks and fashion statements), no one actually likes wearing them. It’s also spring, and everyone is feeling more restless. Please be very aware that as we approach the upcoming holiday weekend, your actions will go a long way to decrease further spread as we give time for more people to get vaccinated. At least for the next week, do your best to avoid situations that may expose you to infection. Continue to wear masks and kindly ask others to do the same. These simple acts will make you less likely to spread the virus to family or friends that you’ll see during the holiday.

This spring is a far cry from last year. Not only do we better understand the virus, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The more people who get vaccinated, and the quicker this happens, the faster we stop widespread transmission and get back to business as usual. There’s also less opportunity for new variants to emerge. Too many things have driven us apart as a society, but one thing we can all agree on is that we’ve had it with COVID. Unfortunately, we can’t work out a deal with the virus. Our clearest path forward is to get vaccinated as soon as each of us has the chance.

For those who are hesitant or skeptical, I encourage you to talk to your personal healthcare provider and not necessarily believe what shows up on your newsfeed or social media account. A vaccination is part of your medical care and you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to make a decision based on advice from a truly trusted source. Your doctor or nurse practitioner has an ethical obligation to advise you based on what’s best for your health and safety. You can’t say the same for any website or media outlet.

I will repeat something written in early January: Seldom do our actions lead to as much potential good, with such small risk, as receiving a vaccination to protect against COVID-19. Nothing else holds as much potential to end the physical, emotional, and social harms that have been inflicted on our community and our country over this past year.

We have a chance to take a major step in restoring normalcy to our lives. We also have a chance to come together as a nation in a common cause of patriotic selflessness. Each of us has a chance to act for the good of our community and our nation.

Once you’ve made the decision to get vaccinated, where can you register? Our health department receives a limited supply of vaccines sent each week, as does the hospital. You can register on the Calvert County Government’s site to be vaccinated either by the health department or the hospital. The website is https://www.calvertcountymd.gov/2821/Vaccine. Some area pharmacies receive weekly vaccine doses. Their locations can be found at the following website https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine. Each pharmacy has its own registration process. (Yes, this whole process is a bit nuts.) In addition, the previously mentioned website has registration information for the state’s mass vaccination sites at Regency Stadium in Charles County, Six Flags, and elsewhere. Mass vaccination sites receive tens of thousands of doses each week.

State officials have finally started sending small allocations of vaccines to some doctors’ offices, but availability remains very limited. There has been no announcement as to when deliveries to doctors’ offices will be expanded. As much as it would be nice for people to receive a vaccine at their personal physician’s office, it may take months before sufficient supplies are available, so please register for a vaccine as soon as you can at any site accessible to you.

Please make a difference and register as soon as you’re eligible. Currently everyone 60 and older is eligible. Starting tomorrow, March 30th, everyone 16 and over with an underlying health condition or disabilities is eligible. Starting April 13th, all Marylanders 55 and older can register, and on April 27th, everyone 16 and older is eligible. Not everyone will be able to get vaccinated immediately, but the registration lists should move much more quickly as the national supply increases through April and early May.

Thank you for your consideration and I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday, Dr. Polsky

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