Tag Archives: public health

What The COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdowns Have Helped People Realize (According To Reddit)

Let’s be honest. At this time last year, a lot of us were in a bad place. The COVID-19 pandemic was going full throttle. We didn’t have a vaccine yet and had no idea how long it would take to get one. Even by then, the deniers and the idiots couldn’t avoid it. This crisis was real. These lockdowns and public health measures were real. We didn’t know how long it was going to last. Normal, as we knew it, may as well have been another lifetime.

Now, we can actually say with a straight face that the pandemic is almost over. Thanks to widespread vaccine efforts, we’re at a point where many of those emergency measures are being lifted. Even among the states that were hardest hit, the final restrictions are coming down. The normality we once took for granted is almost upon us once more.

I cannot overstate how big a relief that is. I also doubt anyone will forget what it was like to endure over a year of lockdowns and restrictions. I like to think we won’t take this sort of thing for granted again, although that may be hoping for too much. For me personally, this pandemic has taught me a lot about just how frail our modern world is. It also taught me how vulnerable we still are as a species and a society.

That’s just one of many lessons. Others have learned them to and then some. Now, as the restrictions are lifting and life as we knew it is returning, I think it’s beneficial that we all take a moment to reflect on what this pandemic helped us realize. Many of those realizations were harsh, to say the least. They’re still worth acknowledging.

To that end, I found a helpful video from the YouTube Channl, Radio TTS. This channel covers some posts from the popular r/AskReddit subreddit. Some of these responses are a lot more personal than anything I experienced. They’re still worth sharing. If you have others you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted: Thoughts, Feelings, And (Unexpected) Implications

Mayo Expert: Fla. Will Suffer 'Unnecessary Deaths' As COVID-19 Restrictions  Are Lifted | WJCT NEWS

This past week marked a huge milestone for my home state. Like so many others, the COVID-19 restrictions that have pretty much defined our lives since late March of 2020 were finally lifted. At this very moment, we are no longer in a State of Emergency.

There are no more capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters.

There are no more mask requirements that are enforced by the state.

There are no more social distancing requirements for outdoor or indoor events.

Just typing that out put a smile on my face. It also fills me with this strange array of emotions that I don’t quite know how to articulate. Like so many other fellow Americans, I watched this year-long horror show that was the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before my eyes.

I felt it affect me, my friends, my community, and my family in profound ways. I know people who got the disease. Some of them still don’t have their sense of taste and smell back entirely. I know people who have died from this disease. I also was unable to attend major family events, including a wedding, because of this damned disease.

I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just impossible to overstate how big an impact this disease had on our world. It’s going to leave scars that will last years. It’s going to define an entire generation and beyond. If I ever have kids, I’m going to struggle to explain to them what it was like, navigating this pandemic.

For a time, it felt truly apocalyptic. There was a long stretch last year where my dad and I were constantly making up dates for when things would get back to “normal.” At one point, it was May 15th, 2020. At another, we thought the 4th of July would be the end of it. Then, we started looking towards Labor Day.

At some point, we just came to realize that there was no use hoping anymore. We had no idea when this would end. For all we knew, this pandemic would draw out for years. Even after news about a vaccine emerged, we were still skeptical. A life without COVID-19 restrictions still seemed so far away.

Now, that day has come.

However, the effects are still there.

Recently, I went out to have breakfast with my parents at one of our favorite diners. There were no capacity restrictions. There were no mask requirements either. However, a number of people were still wearing masks, including most of the staff. My parents even wore masks when they first entered, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. I didn’t wear one, but I had one with me, just in case.

To some extent, it was downright jarring, not having to wear a mask. Yes, it was liberating in some ways, but it still felt so unusual after having spent over a year under these restrictions. You almost feel more vulnerable not wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a crowded diner. I’m sure that’s a feeling we’ll have to get used to again, but it doesn’t change one inescapable truth.

This “normal” that we’ve been waiting for doesn’t feel “normal” to us anymore.

I don’t know if that’s temporary or if that’s something that will linger on for years to come. I know people who have stated outright that they’re going to keep wearing masks, even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops to zero. To them, the mask has become just another part of their lives. The see it like a seatbelt or hand soap. It’s not about avoiding a disease anymore. It’s about staying healthy.

That’s an implication that I don’t know that we’ve collectively processed. I certainly haven’t. I’ve no inclination to throw away my masks. I also have no plans to stop the frequent handwashing that I’ve come to embrace since last March. That does lead me to wonder whether this is truly our new “normal.”

I put that in quotes because, now that the state mandated restrictions are lifted, it’s on us to determine what form that normal takes. Will that mean always wearing a mask in certain settings? Just the other day, I went to the grocery store and I still wore a mask. The signs on the front doors saying they were required were still there. Until they come down, I’ll keep doing so.

At the same time, a part of me feels like I’m still adjusting. I’m almost reluctant to embrace a post-pandemic world because I saw how bad it got last year. Maybe that feeling will fade with time. Maybe within a few months, mask wearing will become a rarity and everyone will be eager to put the memories of the pandemic behind them.

I don’t claim to know what will happen. I just know that it’s going to take a while to get out of this mindset that a year of pandemic restrictions has wrought.

That’s just my experience, though. How do you feel? Have the restrictions in your state been lifted? If so, how have you and your family reacted? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Filed under Current Events, health, Jack Fisher's Insights

Why I’m Still Going To Wear A Mask (For Now)

Australia's about-face on masks and Covid-19: why our health advice was  late to the party | Health | The Guardian

The past few months have been full of objectively great news in terms of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Given how, at this time last year, the entire world was shutting down and the news kept getting worse with each passing day, I welcome that news. Hell, I’m willing to celebrate it.

It’s now safe to say with a straight face that we’re almost through this once-in-a-century pandemic. The trend line, both in terms of new cases and deaths, is going down. It’s still terrible in some parts of the world, but unlike last year, we have multiple vaccines with which to fight it.

Again, this is a good thing. I got my vaccination and I cannot overstate the relief I felt when it was all said and done. I still take precautions when I go out in public, mostly because there are still some restrictions in place and I understand that not everyone has gotten their vaccine. That includes wearing a mask.

Then, last week, a big announcement from the Centers for Disease Control brought more good news to those who have been vaccinated. Apparently, if we get the vaccine, then there’s no reason to keep wearing a mask. Here’s the story from NPR.

NPR: Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Masks Indoors And Outdoors, CDC Says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated adults can safely resume activities indoors or outdoors without masks or distancing, in gatherings large or small. The announcement marks a major milestone in the effort to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the new guidance Thursday.

“You can do things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said.

The new policy is based on recent real-world studies from Israel and the U.S. on people who’ve been vaccinated, she said.

Once again, I welcome this news. Like everyone else, I’m sick of having to wear a mask, just to go and get groceries. I also don’t like wearing a mask when I work out. That’s just one other piece of cloth that gets all sweaty and stinky. I’m as eager as everyone else to discard them.

However, despite this welcome news, I’ve already made a choice. I will continue wearing a mask in public, at least for now.

My reason for doing so has nothing to do with my trust in the science. I believe it’s legitimate. This is the Center for Disease Control. They’re not some wannabe guru trying to sell vitamins as a cure all. These brave men and women have been on the front lines since this crisis began. They’ve earned that credibility.

For that same reason, I choose to wear a mask because I understand that not everyone trusts the news and policies that public officials have given. That includes those who refuse to get the vaccine and refuse to wear masks. As a result, these people, who are a sizable chunk of the population, are still vulnerable. They’ll remain vulnerable until the infection rate is at a point where it’s easy to track, treat, and contain.

We’re not quite at that place yet. As of this writing, only about half the population has been vaccinated by at least one of the available vaccines. Just this past week, most clinics and pharmacies in my area started offering walk-in vaccinations without an appointment. That’s a great thing and people now have no excuse not to get one.

However, until that vaccination rate gets to a point where the virus can’t easily spread, I’m still wearing a mask. Even though the vaccine does prevent me from getting ill or showing symptoms, there’s still the possibility of breakthrough infections. While those vaccinated may never feel ill at all, they may still spread it and they could spread it to someone who is not vaccinated.

I do not want to be one of those people.

I do not want to be someone who spreads this terrible disease to someone, even if I never feel sick.

Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and I look forward to discarding them.

No, I’m not willing to risk hurting other people for my own personal comfort.

That’s not just an informed choice. It’s the right thing to do and it’ll get us out of this crisis that much sooner.

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A Brief Video To Address (And Debunk) Vaccine Hesitancy

Last week, I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It was a smooth, pleasant experience by every measure. Those involved were kind, professional, and diligent. My arm was a bit sore for a while, but other than that, I felt no major side-effects.

Having covered the development of this vaccine, I cannot overstate what a monumental achievement this is for science, health, and the general improvement of human well-being. Those involved in the development of this vaccine are real-life heroes. It’s because of them that this terrible pandemic will never claim as many lives as it could’ve.

However, there are still those who are reluctant to take the vaccine. Some do it for religious reasons. Some do it for political reasons. Whatever their reason is, I won’t mince words. It’s stupid, selfish, and is putting other people at risk. This pandemic will drag on longer and kill more people because of them. They should be criticized for that.

Some of those people cannot be reasoned with and are just a lost cause. For others, though, who may be nervous or reluctant to take this vaccine, I feel we should reach out to those people. I’m sure they’ve heard plenty of conflicting messages as well about the vaccine. There are real answers to those concerns and I’d like to share them.

Below is a video from the YouTube channel, asapSCIENCE. They’re a good YouTube channel with millions of subscribers and great production values. They have a talent for breaking down major science-related issues in a simple, easy-to-follow manner. I sincerely hope this video allays any concerns you might have about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

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I’m Officially Vaccinated! Please Do The Same

Today, I feel like I’ve just finished running a long marathon over rocky terrain through a snowstorm and with a pack of hungry wolves chasing me. If it sounds like I’m being melodramatic, I make no apologies. I’m just that excited and relieved because, as of this writing, I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Having watched with everyone else over the past year as this once-in-a-generation pandemic has ravaged the world, I’ve been anxiously waiting for this moment, like so many others. Most of us know people who have been infected or in some ways impacted by this terrible disease. The only way we’re going to beat it while minimizing further loss of life is through a vaccine.

I’ve covered the news surrounding the development of multiple vaccines for this disease. I’ve also made it very clear that I am not sympathetic to those who cut in line to get their dose or those who try to undermine public health for political or religious reasons. I know there was and still is a lot of drama surrounding vaccines. I’m willing to set that all aside for now.

Getting vaccinated after living through so many upheavals is a great feeling. For those who may be concerned, I can attest that the process is simple and quick. Those involved were kind, diligent, and professional every step of the way. I was in and out within a half-hour. I couldn’t be happier with how the whole operation went down.

Since I’ll still need a second dose, I will have to return. Having seen the dedication and efficiency of those involved, I am perfectly comfortable with that. I also encourage everyone, including those who hate needles, to make the effort to get this vaccine.

Check with your local government.

Talk to your family doctor.

Call up a CVS or local pharmacy.

Use this handy tool that I’ve linked to before.

Whatever steps you have to take, make the effort. You’ll be doing yourself, your neighbors, and your family a huge favor. I’m as sick of this pandemic as everyone else. This vaccine is how we’ll get out of it and get our lives back. Please make the effort. Regardless of your politics, religion, or ideology, get this vaccine.

I got mine and I can attest that it’s a great feeling.

Also, to all the wonderful men and women who helped develop this vaccine and other treatments, I sincerely thank you. You are all the true heroes of this pandemic.

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Filed under health, Jack Fisher's Insights, real stories

Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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Small Silver Linings: The Pandemic Is Killing The Flu

Things are pretty awful right now. Let’s not underscore that.

A global pandemic is still raging and world is in turmoil because of it. Even with multiple vaccines available, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can honestly say it’s over.

As bad as that is, it’s still important to find some silver linings. You don’t want to undermine how bad things are, but you also want to embrace whatever positives you can. Even if they don’t warrant the suffering, they can help us process the overall impact.

To that end, I want to highlight something that’s easy to overlook in the midst of a raging pandemic. This disease we’re fighting is awful. It’s killing way too many people and our efforts to stop it have been mixed, at best. However, those efforts have brought other indirect benefits.

One of them has to do with the seasonal flu. Every year, it seems, some nasty bug seems to go around in certain areas. I’ve certainly experienced it. I’ve endured the flu before and most people agree. It’s not fun. It’s an experience we can all do without.

Now, due to the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the flu has been effectively kneecapped this season. According to some recent data from the Center for Disease Control, this has been the mildest flu season in years.

CDC: Decreased Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Following widespread adoption of community mitigation measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that tested positive decreased from >20% to 2.3% and has remained at historically low interseasonal levels (0.2% versus 1–2%). Data from Southern Hemisphere countries also indicate little influenza activity.

Again, and it’s worth belaboring, this silver lining does not make up for all the terrible things the COVID-19 pandemic has incurred. An overall decline in flu cases hardly makes up for all the suffering we’ve endured in this pandemic.

At the very least, it shows that there’s real merit in embracing these public safety measures. There’s real benefit to regularly washing your hands, wearing a mask, and not congregating in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

It has certainly changed how I look at public health. In the past, I’ve actually been sick and gone to class or work. I tried to endure the illness, not understanding just how much it affected others around me. This pandemic has changed that.

Now, when I’m sick, I’m making damn sure I stay home. I’m also washing my hands a lot more regularly and thoroughly. I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. These are all hard lessons that we’ve all paid a terrible price to learn. At the same time, we have that much more reason to endure and overcome this awful pandemic. Beyond simply beating this dreaded disease, emerging in a world where the flu is lesson common is definitely a more appealing world overall.

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Appreciating Dr. Maurice Hilleman: The Man Who Saved Millions Of Lives (With Vaccines)

As someone who regularly consumes superhero media of all kinds, I try to appreciate the real heroes in the real world who regularly save countless lives. Most carry themselves without superpowers, flashy costumes, or charisma on par with Robert Downy Jr. or Christopher Reeves. They just do the work that needs doing to help people who will never know their name.

A couple years ago, I made a tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed agricultural scientist who helped usher in an agricultural revolution. This man, who most have never heard of, has saved millions of lives by helping the world produce more food, reduce famine, and combat world hunger. The amount of good this man has done for the world cannot be overstated.

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another individual who I doubt most people have heard of. He’s another doctor who, through his work, has helped save millions of lives, many of them children. It’s because of this man that millions of children born today don’t become ill with diseases that had ravaged humanity for generations.

That man is Dr. Maurice Hilleman. While his notoriety is not on the same level as Dr. Borlaug, I have a feeling his profile will rise considerably after the events of 2020. That’s because Dr. Hilleman currently holds the record for developing the most vaccines of any doctor in history.

In total, he helped develop more than 40.

Of those vaccines, 8 are still routinely recommended by doctors today. They combat terrible diseases like measles, mumps, Hepatitis, and chicken pox.

It’s a level of productivity that is unparalleled today. As a result of these vaccines, approximately 8 million lives are saved every year. Even though he died in 2005, he continues to save lives with each passing year through his work. Like Dr. Borlaug, his heroism only compounds with time. Even Tony Stark can’t boast that.

Most people alive today don’t realize just how bad it was before these vaccines were developed. Many diseases, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, were rampant. Before Dr. Hilleman helped develop the vaccine, measles alone infected between 3 and 4 million people every year in the United states, killing at between 400 and 500 at a time.

Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable. It was once just a fact of life that these diseases would come around and kill a sizable number of children. It was as unavoidable as bad weather.

Take a moment to imagine life in those conditions. One day, you or your children would just get sick and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. That was life before these remarkable advances came along.

That’s why when people say that nothing has saved more lives than vaccines, they’re not peddling propaganda. They’re just sharing the results of basic math. It’s because of men like Dr. Maurice Hilleman that these numbers are what they are. However, his name is not well-known, even in a field that has become more prominent.

Most people know who Edward Jenner is and appreciate how many lives he saved by combating Smallpox.

Most people know who Jonas Salk is and appreciate how many people he helped by developing a polio vaccine.

Now, what these men did was remarkable. They certainly deserve the praise and admiration they receive for developing their respective vaccines. However, Dr. Maurice Hilleman still deserves to be in that same echelon. For the number of vaccines he helped develop and the legacy he left, he certainly put in the work and accomplished a great deal.

The diseases Dr. Hilleman battled might not have been as high-profile as Smallpox or polio, but they were every bit as damaging. That makes it all the more frustrating to see efforts like the anti-vaxx movement take hold, which has led to resurgences of diseases like measles in certain communities. That is not the direction we should be going right now.

In the midst of a historic pandemic, the importance of medical science and those who work in it has never been more critical. This might be the best possible time to acknowledge the work of men like Dr. Hilleman. Even after this pandemic has passed, we should all appreciate work like his even more.

None of us have superpowers like Spider-Man or Superman.

Most of us will never be as rich, smart, or resourceful as Iron Man or Batman.

Dr. Hilleman had none of this. Just like Dr. Borlaug, he came from a poor family. At one point, he didn’t have enough money for college. He still persevered and he still managed to do the work that went onto save millions of lives. It might not be a hero’s story on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s still a special kind of heroism.

So, on this day as we anxiously wait for this pandemic to end, take a moment to appreciate the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. It’s because of him that such pandemics are so rare. It’s also because of him that this current pandemic won’t take nearly as many lives as it could’ve.

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Vaccine Update: The Impact Of The Moderna Vaccine (Beyond COVID-19)

Sometimes, it takes a terrible global crisis to spurn huge leaps in technology. World War II was arguably the greatest crisis of the modern era, but it helps advance some of the greatest technological leaps in history. We can argue whether those advances were worth all the death and destruction, but there’s no denying that our world wouldn’t be the same without them.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t on the same level as World War II, but it is, by most measures, the greatest crisis the world has faced in the past 50 years. It hasn’t just caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and immeasurable amounts of suffering. It has completely disrupted this big, interconnected world that we’ve come to depend on.

We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. Beyond the loved ones who have perished, our entire sense of security and hope has been shattered. We now realize just how vulnerable we were and how inevitable this was. As bad as it is, there is some good coming out of it.

Usually, a crisis like this helps break down the barriers that divided us and hindered progress, technological or otherwise. Never before has the world been more united or engaged in a singular effort. Before 2020, we probably didn’t know much about vaccines or vaccine research. We just knew that Jenny McCarthy tried to be relevant again by protesting them.

That’s changing now. The global effort to create a vaccine for this terrible disease has been watched and agonized over for months. Most recently, we got a much-needed glimmer of hope from Pfizer, who reported that their vaccine is 90 percent effective. I celebrated this news like everyone else.

Then, we got an even greater glimmer of hope from the other vaccine front-runner by Moderna. Not only is their vaccine in the final phase of testing, like Pfizer. It’s even more effective and promises to be easier to store and distribute.

CNN: Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective, according to company data

The Moderna vaccine is 94.5% effective against coronavirus, according to early data released Monday by the company, making it the second vaccine in the United States to have a stunningly high success rate.

“These are obviously very exciting results,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor. “It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.”

Moderna heard its results on a call Sunday afternoon with members of the Data Safety and Monitoring Board, an independent panel analyzing Moderna’s clinical trial data.

This is objectively great news in a year when we’ve had precious little of it. These two vaccines may very well be the one-two punch we need to end the COVID-19 pandemic and return to some semblance of normalcy. I would still like to go to a movie theater or baseball game at some point in 2021. These vaccines may make that possible.

However, I’d like to take a moment to speculate beyond this terrible pandemic that has uprooted so many lives. I know that’s not easy to do when the crisis is still very relevant and inflicting plenty of suffering. I still think it’s worth attempting, if only to imagine the better world that emerges from this mess.

That’s because both these vaccines aren’t like your typical flu shots. For one, flu shots aren’t nearly as effective as what Pfizer and Moderna reported. According to the CDC, you’re average flu shot is between 40 and 60 percent effective. That’s still important because the flu can be deadly. Anything you do to reduce it can only further public health, in general.

The problem is the flu shot, and most vaccines like it, are based on old technology. At their most basic, they take a non-infectious or weakened strain of a pathogen and use it to amp up your body’s immunity. It’s crude, but it works. Literally nothing has saved more lives than vaccines.

The problem is that vaccines are notoriously hard to develop. They take a long time to test and an even longer time to approve. Until this pandemic, there just wasn’t much incentive to improve on that process. Now, after these past 8 months, the incentive couldn’t have been greater.

That’s what sped up the development of mRNA vaccines, the technology behind both Pfizer and Moderna. It was reported on as far back as 2018. While this technology isn’t completely new, it has never been developed beyond a certain point. There just wasn’t any incentive to do so. A global crisis changed that.

Very simply, an mRNA vaccine does one better on traditional vaccines by using RNA to develop immunity. It’s not as easy as it sounds. To develop that immunity, it has encode itself with just the right antigen. That way, the antibodies it creates can attack the desired pathogen.

In the case of COVID-19, the mRNA vaccine attacks the distinct spike protein the virus uses to attach to host cells. It’s like a missile targeting a specific individual in a large crowd by locking onto the distinct hat they wear.

This approach has the potential to be much more effective at generating immunity to a particular disease. Instead of trying to mimic a virus, it just gives the immune system the necessary software it needs to do the work. It could potentially revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases.

For years, certain viruses like the flu and HIV have confounded efforts to develop a vaccine. Beyond the problems I listed earlier with regards to testing, the difficulty of creating a particular immune response to a particular antigen is very difficult. These viruses mutate and change all the time. With COVID, vaccines do have an advantage because they have a distinct feature.

The challenge for future vaccines against future pandemics is quickly uncovering a particular antigen that the mRNA can be coded for. In theory, all you would have to do is find the one key antigen that’s common to every strain of the virus. While viruses like the flu are notoriously diverse, they can only change so much.

It’s akin to trying to identify an army of spies in a large crowd. They may all look different on the outside, but if they all have the same socks, then that’s what you code for. With some refinements, an mRNA vaccine can stop a pandemic in its tracks before it ever gets beyond a certain point.

That assumes we’ll continue to refine this technology after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. I certainly hope that’s the case. This year has traumatized entire generations with how much pain and suffering it has inflicted. I sincerely hope that gives plenty of motivation to develop technology like this. That way, we never have to endure a disruption like this again.

To all those who helped develop this technology and these two vaccines, I hope you appreciate the impact you’ll make with this technology. The number of lives they could save is incalculable. Future generations may not remember your names, but they will be forever grateful for this wondrous gift you’ve given them.

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Major Vaccine Update: My Reaction, Expectations, And Concerns

Like everyone else in this pandemic-ravaged world, I have been closely following any and all news regarding a COVID-19 vaccine. I liken it to waiting in a burning building with millions of other people and only a handful of firefighters trying to save the day. Those who have been working on this effort are real-life superheroes and we should be cheering them on.

Now, I’ve had some strong opinions about those who denigrate science, but I’ve also been very reluctant to get excited about any potentially good news. I attribute some of that to being jaded and cynical after seeing this pandemic do so much damage. I don’t deny that my spirit is still quite wounded after nearly a year of objectively awful news.

Well, wounded or not, the work continues. Those real-life superheroes I mentioned have never stopped this vital effort. To them, we should all be in awe, as well as grateful, because it looks like an effective vaccine is actually on the horizon, courtesy of Pfizer.

For those who might be a bit behind, this is what the Associated Press reported.

AP News: Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine is looking 90% effective

Pfizer Inc. said Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine may be a remarkable 90% effective, based on early and incomplete test results that nevertheless brought a big burst of optimism to a world desperate for the means to finally bring the catastrophic outbreak under control.

The announcement came less than a week after an election seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the scourge, which has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.

“We’re in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. “We’re very encouraged.”

Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, now is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.

Even if all goes well, authorities have stressed it is unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year, and the limited initial supplies will be rationed.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said the results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”

I don’t want to understate or overstate the importance of this news. This is a big deal. This isn’t some hyped up treatment, like Hydroxychloroquine. This is a real vaccine developed by a real company by real scientists.

It’s also not one of those treatments that just came off the drawing board. This vaccine is currently in Phase 3 trials, which is the last phase for any vaccine or treatment to pass before it’s ultimately approved for public use. That means this vaccine is on the home stretch. It could conceivably be approved within the next few months.

That’s very different from some of the other overhyped treatments that were floating around earlier this year. That’s also why I didn’t get my hopes up. Most of those treatments weren’t beyond the first phase of testing and the vast majority of new drugs never make it to the final phase. The fact that this vaccine is even at that point is reason for hope.

Now, a part of me is genuinely encouraged by this. However, another part is still concerned.

My concern, however, has little to do with the science or the testing. I understand why it has to be so rigorous. I would defer to those much smarter and more experienced than me to deal with the specifics. Much of my concern has to do with the perceptions and perspectives this vaccine will bring if and when it’s approved.

The first part of that concern stems somewhat from lingering cynicism. I genuinely worry that once news comes out that the vaccine is approved and being used, too many people will start behaving as though the pandemic is over. They’ll stop wearing masks and they’ll stop social distancing.

Even with a working vaccine, that will make things worse and people will suffer because of it. We already have enough problems with people refusing to wear masks. A vaccine could only make it worse and cause a spike in cases before the effects can take hold.

That is worth belaboring. It will take time for a vaccine’s effects to be felt. Even if this particular vaccine is available on January 1st, 2021, it’s going to take months for enough doses to be given. That doesn’t even get into the challenge of manufacture and distribution.

If we do eventually get to a post-pandemic world in 2021, it’s probably not going to be until some point later in the year. That’s not pessimism or cynicism. That’s just science and biology.

Another concern I have is basically the same I had when this mess started. Thanks to anti-science, anti-vaccine advocates, this pandemic could ultimately get extended because of peoples’ reluctance to take the vaccine. Even if these people are a minority, that’s still a huge problem that will ultimately hurt people.

Even those who aren’t advocates may still be reluctant to accept the science. There are members of my own family who are as reasonable and rational as they come, but even they say they will not be first in line to get the vaccine. That’s actually a popular sentiment. People say they support vaccines, but they won’t be first in line to get it.

To those people, I respectfully ask that you reconsider that position. Like it or not, this pandemic won’t end until enough people take this vaccine and develop immunity. Someone has to be first in line. If no one is willing to take the chance, then the virus will just keep spreading. It does not care how reluctant you are. It just cares that you’re vulnerable.

To that end, I’d like to state outright that, should this particular vaccine get approved for public use, I will gladly be first in line to take it. I’ll take that risk. I’ll roll up my sleeve and trust the scientists who worked so hard on this thing. If nothing happens, then I hope that’s enough to allay your fears and concerns.

I want this pandemic to end. We all do, at this point. I’d like to go to a movie theater or a baseball game at some point next year. However, we can’t wait for someone to end it for us. We have to play a part. The scientists and doctors are clearly doing theirs, more so than I can put into words. Now, let’s be ready and willing to do ours.

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