What lies ahead as we finally turn the corner into the homestretch of the COVID war.
Remember that gleeful song that erupts as the intrepid heroes of the Wizard of Oz arrive for the first time at the gates of the Emerald City itself? Something about stepping out of the dark and into the light?
Well, unfortunately that’s not yet a good theme song for where we are in the world’s exhausting battle against the coronavirus. But if you think you hear the strains of that happy tune just over the horizon, you certainly have reason to hope.
At GraceMed, that reason for hope arrived in the form of a vaccine that was delivered into our employee’s arms three days before Christmas. Our staff were part of the first wave of healthcare workers to receive the vaccine, and it was a welcomed shot in the arm, especially for those who have been most prominently serving on the front lines of the battle.
Staying the course on a winding road
We are fast approaching a full year of this. The numbers of infections and lives lost have risen to levels few could have imagined when it all began. But the progress in pursuit of a vaccine has been almost as stunning. In fact, it could be argued that the problem we face now is that the search for and manufacture of the cure for all this suffering has outstripped the planning to distribute it and get into people’s arms. But we’re learning fast how to streamline the process.
“At every step in this journey we’ve been dealing with so many unknowns,” said Dr. Julie Elder, GraceMed Chief Medical Officer. “There has been an inevitable amount of trial and error as we proceeded, but through it all, from medical researchers to care providers to county and state health officials, I am proud to say we have always kept our focus on fighting this virus as effectively as we humanly can and saving lives.”
As of this writing, the ferocity of that battle is about to reach new levels. On the virus side of the battle lines, we’ve unfortunately come through the holiday season with increased exposures as families have travelled in far greater numbers to be together. Then, as if the world needed a new challenge, the virus mutated to form new strains which are now working their way across the U. S. from Great Britain and South Africa.
“At this point in time, we don’t know for certain how the vaccines will interact with the new strains,” Dr. Elder explained. “But we do know they are proving to be much more contagious, so we certainly can expect more cases in the coming weeks.”
As shot in the arm is up ahead
On the immunization side, the battle will soon be joined by a number of vaccines. The first two, made by Pfizer and Moderna, have proven their safety and effectiveness and have been approved for use. They require two doses a few weeks apart. Vaccines offered by Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers are fast approaching approval. Some may even be available for use by the time you read this.
So far the drugs have been well tolerated with few reported side effects. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have achieved about a 95% success rate in drug trials, a rate that has far exceeded all expectations. The vaccinations that are soon to come on line are also expected to have comparably high levels of effectiveness.
Currently, the vaccination schedule published by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, follows national guidelines that establish a phased approach starting with healthcare workers and moving through groups defined by age and health status. The timeline is currently projected to require the first six months of the year to complete, although anticipated changes at the federal level may make a more rapid implementation possible.
It’s not over until it’s over for everyone
Of course, the novel nature of the virus continues to leave us with some questions unanswered. Most notably, we don’t know if being immunized means you are no longer capable of carrying the virus to someone who hasn’t had the shot yet.
“That’s one very important reason why getting a vaccination shouldn’t be interpreted as your own ‘freedom from masks’ day,” Dr. Elder warned. “We need everyone to continue wearing masks and social distancing until our infectious disease experts have determined that the herd immunity everyone keeps talking about has been achieved. Right now they’re looking at something around 85% of the population being vaccinated before we can get back to normal.”
So unfortunately, it’s still headlights on and seat belts buckled for some time ahead, fellow COVID travelers. But the more we do to defeat the virus, the faster we can all put it in our rear view mirrors.
This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!