A message from The Center for Closing the Health Gap
By Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association
In a Sunday night national television appearance two weeks ago, President Joe Biden referred to the COVID-19 pandemic being over. Our President’s assertion prompted the Whitehouse to scramble to clarify. The official position of the US government is that we are still in the throes of a “Public Health Emergency.” Additionally, one prominent World Health Organization figure noted that worldwide deaths from the virus are at their lowest levels since March 2020. He thus suggested that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” Yet pandemics just do not end all of a sudden. There is actually an 18-member panel that makes that determination. They have yet to declare this pandemic over.
People are still getting sick, hospitalized, and dying as a result of this virus. The US is still seeing over 400 deaths and averaging over 41,000 (known) cases per day. This is assuredly an underestimate considering the amount of home-testing that is being performed. Admittedly the levels of despair as a result of this virus have waned dramatically. The epidemiologic data is clearly better. All of the counties in Ohio and Indiana, which surround our Hamilton County, remain at a LOW community level of COVID-19. All Kentucky counties which are adjacent to Hamilton County are at MEDIUM levels. At the LOW level of community involvement, the CDC still recommends:
“Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. Get tested if you have symptoms. Wear a mask if you have symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19. Wear a mask on public transportation. You may choose to wear a mask at any time as an additional precaution to protect yourself and others.”
For MEDIUM level CDC adds “If you are at high risk for severe illness, consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions.”
Although the epidemic nomenclature describing that this SARS-Cov-2 virus is somewhat up for debate, the affect that it is having on our lives has clearly changed. Many people are back to in-person work, schools are back in, sporting events and restaurants are being enjoyed. All of this is occurring while mandates and restrictions are being relaxed. Yet we must still care about this virus and its potential impact. We have experienced surges over the last two autumns and this one may be no different.
If this fall is different, it will likely be the result of the millions of Americans who have received the new Bivalent vaccine, and less likely the result of the limited and fleeting immunity found in the previously infected. Even prior vaccination without the Bivalent booster is less effective against the current predominant variants. We know that most COVID-19 infections in the USA are caused by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants (for now).
In order to understand why the new booster is needed we need to review what is immunity? Protection from disease is the short definition. This resistance to becoming ill is gained by the human body developing blood proteins (humeral) and cells which attack the virus that invades the body. These defense mechanisms develop “naturally’ after an infection, after vaccination, or in a “hybrid” form after both. The humeral immunity is antibody driven. The cellular immunity is driven by helper T cells which identify the invading pathogen, killer T cells which destroy the pathogen, and by B cells which make more antibodies, as necessary. Although people who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus develop all these types of immunity, the benefit derived is not long lasting. On the other hand, the Moderna and Pfizer bivalent boosters are proving effective in preventing severe disease and death caused even by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.
Words can declare this pandemic as over. Governmental agencies will be responsible for verifying the epidemiologic parameters that match the assertions. We must continue to be rational with our self-protection. Get yourself and your children vaccinated as have 95% of our senior citizens. Follow the seniors’ over 65% example by getting boosted. Wisdom and great choices have allowed them to reach their age! Be mindful of indoor ventilation and crowding. Get your flu vaccine and wash your hands. Wear a mask in vulnerable environs or when around high-risk individuals.