Tag Archives: vaccination

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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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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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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PSA: If You Cut In Line To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine, You’re An Asshole

Some things really shouldn’t have to be said. They’re so obvious, both in terms of common sense and basic human decency, that nobody should have to be reminded in any capacity. If you have a functioning brain and a simple understanding of a situation, you have no excuse.

Sadly, there are some people in this world who are just a special kind of asshole.

They don’t care what makes sense or what’s generally decent. They’ll just find a way to serve themselves, even if it causes legitimate harm to others.

This brings me to the assholes that the ongoing global pandemic has exposed. Now, this pandemic has already exposed plenty of assholes of a certain variety. The people who downplayed the pandemic and refused to take precautions are already deplorable human beings by any measure.

However, now that there are two vaccines available to end this pandemic, more assholes are being exposed in the most hypocritical way possible. Now, it should go without saying that, given the state of the pandemic, the first people who should get this treatment are the front line health care workers.

These people are the legitimate heroes of this pandemic. They need this vaccine. They deserve it. More lives will be saved because of them.

Even so, some people who are not front line health care workers are attempting to get this vaccine. Some are powerful people with powerful connections. Some are just well-connected, in general. Whatever their reason, if they’re not a front line health care worker, they’re still a special kind of asshole for cutting in line to get this vaccine.

I can’t be subtle or tactful about this.

I can’t be polite about it, either.

I’m just going to say what I feel as someone who has witnessed the damage and suffering that this pandemic has caused like so many others. It shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ll say it anyways.

If you’re a politician who uses their power and influence to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.

If you’re a rich, well-connected business type who uses their money and connection to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.

If you’re the friend or spouse of a billionaire or politician who uses that friendship to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.

If you’re someone who downplayed the pandemic or scoffed at basic health guidelines when it began and still attempt to get the vaccine, you’re an asshole.

If you’re an anti-evolution religious zealot who encouraged congregates to ignore the advice of doctors during the pandemic and still try to get the vaccine, you’re an asshole.

If you’re a just liar, cheater, or con-artist who uses those skills to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole of the highest order.

In essence, if you’re trying to jump ahead in the line to get this vaccine for any reason, even if you’re among those who didn’t take the pandemic seriously in the beginning, you are an asshole in the highest order. You are just one of the reasons why people lose faith in humanity and the future.

I would tell these people to knock it off, apologize, or show some basic human decency, but I have a feeling they’ll either ignore me or just make an excuse. I doubt those people would ever read this. I still think this is worth saying, if only to share that angry sentiment that many feel when they hear about people cutting in line to get this life-saving treatment.

The world is still in a precarious place right now. The pandemic isn’t over. There’s still a lot of work to be done and, as has been the case since the beginning, the front line health care workers who have been nothing short of superhuman, will bear the brunt of it. Anyone who cuts in front of them to get this treatment deserves nothing but the utmost scorn.

We will eventually emerge from this. Hopefully, there will come a point in 2021 where we can definitively say that this horrible pandemic is over. However, even after that fateful moment, let’s not forget about the assholes who did everything to help themselves when others were suffering.

They’ll still be assholes.

They’ll keep being assholes, no matter what the state of the world.

We can’t always avoid them, but we can expose them for the level asshole they are.

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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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Why You Should Be Pessimistic About Optimistic News On Vaccines

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I try to focus on the positives, even when I’m surrounded by a lot of negatives. It’s part of my personality. Granted, I wasn’t always like that. As a teenager, I was a pretty miserable, jaded, self-loathing cynic. There’s a long story behind that, but it’s not important right now

The reason I make that disclaimer is because the past few months have killed my sense of optimism. Actually, that’s an understatement. The impact of this massive global pandemic has taken my optimism, shot it five times with a shotgun, and ran it over eight times with a fully loaded pickup truck. My optimism is dead. It will be for the foreseeable future. That’s what this pandemic has done.

At this point, I question the sanity of anyone who has clung to any sense of optimism. Thousands of people are dead. Infections are in the millions. Things are getting worse every day. That’s not an opinion. That’s just basic goddamn math.

Now, I’m not trying to turn everyone into a pessimist, nor am I trying to crush everyone’s hopes. The point I want to make here is that there are just some things that hope cannot help, no matter how many inspirational quotes you read. Yes, hope and optimism can go a long way in many fields. A global pandemic just isn’t one of them.

To that point, I want to highlight the recent “optimism” surrounding vaccine research. I admit I too have been following this closely, too. How can you not? Even a cynic would agree. The best way to end this pandemic and get our lives back is with a vaccine. That’s somewhat distressing, given all the negative press vaccines had leading up to this moment.

At the same time, it’s remarkable how much the world has united behind this effort. I can’t remember a time when so many countries and so many organizations were this unified in their effort to achieve something. I want to find hope in that, but there are still a few intractable problem. This time, it has to do with both math and physics.

Making a vaccine is hard. There’s just no way around it. Even if you know the exact molecular sequence, producing it on a mass scale and distributing it to a large number of people is also difficult. It’s not a matter of will. It’s a matter of resources and logistics, the likes of which can’t be solved overnight or even within a year.

For that reason, when you see a positive story about a vaccine for COVID-19, you should be very pessimistic. Just look at this recent story from the Associated Press regarding Moderna’s vaccine research.

AP: First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing

There’s no guarantee but the government hopes to have results around the end of the year — record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

The vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren’t uncommon with other vaccines — fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn’t being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they’re temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

“Small price to pay for protection against COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn’t involved with the study.

He called the early results “a good first step,” and is optimistic that final testing could deliver answers about whether it’s really safe and effective by the beginning of next year.

On the surface, it looks rosy. It hints that a vaccine is getting closer. It may even arrive at the end of the year. They’re even saying that research is moving at record speed. It all sounds so great.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Don’t expect this pandemic to be over by Christmas, either.

Notice that I bolded the phrase “a good first step.” Also, note how few details about the research are actually listed or linked to. It just notes how many people were involved and how many will be utilized in the next step. That’s both a sign and a red flag.

It’s a common problem whenever the media tries to report on science. Actual scientific research, namely the kind reported in journals, is not the kind of thing you can fit into a simple news blurb. You can’t fit it in an article, let alone a tweet. Most scientific research, especially of the medical variety, involves a lot of numbers, intimate details, and chemical constructs that most people aren’t equipped to understand.

It’s not that the news media has to dumb it down for us, the public. It just can only report on the broadest details. Those details often include the various complications and shortcomings of the research. Make no mistake. Those complications are there. If they weren’t, then the scientific research wouldn’t be necessary. It’s why becoming a doctor is so difficult and laborious.

I don’t doubt for a second that most of these doctors want to end this pandemic. Some are probably hopeful that they’re close. However, you can’t be a good doctor without sticking to rigorous science. Breakthroughs don’t happen all at once. Those light-bulb moments we see in movies and TV shows aren’t even close to what happens in real life.

In real life, medical breakthroughs still take years if not decades. The sheer complexity of disease and our methods for treating it preclude easy fixes to big problems. In terms of problems, pandemics are as big as they come. If ending it required only one breakthrough, it would’ve been found by now and thousands of lives wouldn’t have been lost.

That’s why you should never look at vaccine news in terms of a breakthrough. Even headlines that inspire hope in this field can only ever tell part of the story. Unfortunately, science is hard and so is creating effective medicine. You can’t rush it. You can’t encourage it. It’s at the mercy of hard limits that you can’t bullshit your way around. That’s what makes it hard. It’s also why it works.

Remember that the next time you see headlines about the prospect of vaccine research. Don’t assume it’s going to finish tomorrow. Don’t assume a miracle will speed it up. That’s not how science works and that’s not how this pandemic will end. For now, the best we can do is endure, brace ourselves, and retain our sanity until things eventually do change for the better.

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