The last 16 months or so have been among the most challenging times of my life. The pandemic has changed so many things we do in life and has resulted in enormous levels of death, suffering and economic hardship.
Everyone wants the pandemic to go away as soon as possible, but that won’t happen until we establish herd immunity.
Achieving herd immunity in a shorter time frame probably requires that a significant component of the population be vaccinated. While there are a variety of professional views on what vaccination rate is needed to attain herd immunity, the consensus appears to be in the 70% to 85% range.
Although we all share a common goal of eradicating COVID-19, we aren’t achieving the requisite vaccination rate because of relatively high levels of vaccine skepticism.
Some have valid reasons for their skepticism. For example, Blacks cite the numerous situations when they were mistreated by medical research, including the infamous Tuskegee experiments.
Whenever you are vaccinated or take a medication, there is a risk. The question is whether that risk outweighs the benefits. Many people do not properly evaluate the risk/benefit analysis for COVID-19 vaccinations.
For example, we recently asked a tile contractor to come to our house to bid on replacing some tile in one of our bathrooms. He refused to wear a mask, so I was a bit leery about letting him into our house.
When I inquired whether he was vaccinated, he told me that several years ago he got a tetanus shot that really hurt his arm, and after that, he vowed never to be vaccinated again.
Unfortunately, there also is a tremendous amount of misinformation about vaccines.
Several prominent people, including Sen. Rand Paul, believe that getting sick affords greater immunity than vaccination does. More recently, a May 24 study from Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis was cited to support this contention. However, that study merely speculated that asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases apparently induce lasting antibody protection without addressing vaccinations whatsoever.
The study also stated that it is not clear whether people with moderate to severe infections are likely to be protected from reinfection.
It is too soon to reach a definitive conclusion whether vaccination affords greater long-term immunity than getting the disease itself. Many studies are currently being performed to determine the relative immunity of vaccination versus infection. However, we do know that the vaccines are highly effective with efficacy rates exceeding expectations.
We also know that, unlike those vaccinated, a certain percentage of the population contracting COVID will become extremely sick, will have long-term complications, or will die.
Therefore, relying on getting sick to create herd immunity will result in suffering and death for some, and a greater economic cost to all of us who end up paying for their health care. This can largely be avoided through vaccination.
Millions of people around the world have been vaccinated. The side effects of those vaccinations pale in comparison to the specter of the disease itself. Furthermore, we can attain herd immunity faster through vaccination, resulting in less economic and societal hardship.
Viruses have a parasitic relationship with their host. They generally need the host organism to survive so they can continue to reinfect the host to sustain reproduction. Viruses that kill their host will find it harder to find another host. Viruses that exist outside a host do not thrive and are not capable of reproducing.
There is an interesting 2005 study by a Belgian virologist named Marc Van Ranst, an expert on coronaviruses. The study used what was then new technology to retrace the evolution of a coronavirus called OC43, which today is one of several viruses responsible for the common cold. The data indicated that the OC43 is a close genetic match with a bovine virus, which likely jumped species from cows to people about 130 years ago — a time that coincides with the Russian Flu pandemic, which killed millions of people.
Contemporaneous newspaper accounts of the illness refer to the loss of taste and smell and other central nervous system damage, which is characteristic of a coronavirus rather than of influenza. Scientists have concluded that there is a high probability that the Russian flu was really the OC43 virus.
If so, current variants of OC43 are not as lethal as those from 130 years ago and the human host population has developed immunity, so humans and the virus have found a way to coexist. Many virologists anticipate a similar future for the COVID-19 virus.
It took approximately six years before herd immunity was established for the OC43 virus. Today, vaccination technology allows us to compress that period for COVID-19 herd immunity into a matter of months.
Doing so requires that we overcome our vaccine skepticism.
Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.