– By Debbie Quinn –
Why in the world is it 2022 and we’re still dealing with COVID-19? Especially after vaccines and boosters when we thought we reached herd immunity? There are three huge challenges that are making the COVID-19 pandemic difficult to overcome.
- COVID-19 keeps changing on us!
Like any flu virus, the virus that causes COVID-19 changes. It wants to win and grow, and it will keep trying to do that as long as people keep getting sick and giving it to others. Think of the virus like a WWA all-star wrestler that slips on a different mask to trick its competitors and use new moves to win a match. The COVID-19 virus has escaped all our previous preventions, and the new Omicron BA.5 is even sneakier. It slips by our immunities and is much more contagious. When you receive the vaccine and boosters, you will likely have weaker symptoms more like a cold. Because of this, many people are willing to take the calculated risk of catching it. They probably don’t know anyone who has died from the new wave of COVID and don’t want to change the way they live. This can lead to the Omicron variant spreading even faster.
In Alabama, health care professionals regard a “Red” zone of infection when the PCR tests (blood tests for COVID) are on the increase and the infection rate has gone over 8% of the people being tested and hospitalizations have gone upwards. For instance, as of August 1, 2022, Dekalb County has almost a 37% positivity rating but Washington County is 12.3%. That doesn’t count those people testing with an at-home test, so levels could be higher.
- The COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t work how you might have thought
The COVID-19 vaccine was not created to keep you from getting sick; it was created to keep you from going to the hospital. We as health leaders need to spread more information on how the vaccine works. The COVID vaccine is not really like older vaccines that we are more familiar with. For instance, the Polio vaccine and the measles vaccine were created to keep you from getting the disease. This COVID vaccine doesn’t work that way; it’s to prevent the severity of the disease.
The COVID virus is so highly contagious that it has too many opportunities to change and sneak by our immunity, which is why boosters are important. A new vaccine is in development that will include the original COVID strain and the specific Omicron strain that will generate an immunity response. But the CDC suggests not waiting to get the booster if you’re eligible now.
If you’d like to schedule the vaccine or a booster, most pharmacies have it on hand. There are plenty of vaccines available and appointments are easy to find at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and even your corner local pharmacy. Visit www.vaccines.gov to find an appointment near you. COVID-19 vaccines are free to all people living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status. You may be asked to show ID or health insurance, but it’s not a requirement.
Some people are still worried about the vaccine and boosters themselves thinking that they were approved too fast, not tested enough. But that’s not exactly true. As our hospitals reached capacity and deaths spiked, developing a vaccine became top priority. There were so many companies working on it at one time, so they were able to double up the work needed and get it done in “warp speed” time. The COVID vaccine uses mRNA technology, which has been researched for generations. Social media helped to find people who were willing to be test subjects. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are now fully approved by the FDA. The childhood vaccine (6 months up to 5 years of age) is approved under an emergency order.
- Testing isn’t taken seriously
In March 2020, and for a while, testing was difficult. COVID tests were hard to find and expensive. Testing is now a lot easier with quick and affordable at-home tests. Because symptoms for the Omicron variants are milder, you may think you have a cold and avoid getting tested. By testing, you can know to isolate if needed and avoid spreading the disease to vulnerable friends, family, and co-workers. If they haven’t been vaccinated and boosted, their COVID symptoms could be much worse. If you are frequently in high-risk situations, testing more frequently can be beneficial. Both positive and negative tests are valuable pieces of information. You can order eight free tests per household at www.covid.gov/tests. They are shipped free.
We don’t want COVID to overwhelm our hospitals, place our health care staff in danger, and prevent people who really need to be in the hospital for all sorts of other reasons from getting the care and treatment they need. Alabama is moving closer to that situation again. Wearing a mask around strangers and those you don’t know their COVID history can help protect you from becoming infected with the virus or transmitting it to someone else.