Featured Story Written by Dr. Jean Allais
Is there a Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Since early in the pandemic, vaccines have been touted as the one thing that will bring this health crisis to an end.
There are currently three vaccines available under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the United States. Vaccines are now widely available to anyone age 12 years and older who wants one.
Here’s what we know about COVID-19 vaccines:
- COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
- It takes two weeks to build full immunity after receiving the full dose.
- You cannot get COVID-19 from a vaccine.
- Side effects after vaccination are generally mild and go away in a couple of days.
- COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing illness from the virus, especially severe illness and death.
- If you do get infected with COVID-19 after having been vaccinated, the infection is generally mild, or you may have no symptoms at all.
- COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
So why is the number of cases escalating again in Albany County? Albany County is again in the Orange Zone, which means moderate to high transmission rates. On March 7, Albany County had 0.73% positive rate (the lowest we have been since September 2020), on April 7, we had a 4.2% positive rate and on May 18, 5.7% positive rate on a 14-day rolling average. Hospitalizations doubled in Wyoming over the past two weeks. Over that two week span, hospitalizations in Albany County have significantly increased and there have been 3 more COVID-19 related deaths. This increase appears to be the result of several factors. People are traveling more, distancing and mask mandates have relaxed and the rise of new variants, that have been found to be more transmissible and perhaps more dangerous.
Viruses are constantly mutating. These variants are closely monitored in the United States. Several variants have been identified in Albany County, including those initially identified in the United Kingdom (UK), New York, California and Brazil. The most common variant found here is B.1.1.7 from the UK. This variant is associated with a 50% increased transmission rate, potentially increased severity of illness and increased fatality rate, based on studies in the UK. These variants are still covered by the current vaccines.
Why is it so important to get vaccinated? To put it simply, it’s important to get vaccinated to protect yourself and others. Vaccines are vital in controlling this pandemic because they are effective at keeping you from getting COVID-19. It will help keep you from getting seriously ill in the case you do get COVID-19. Protecting yourself also protects the people around you, like those at increased risk of severe illness or those who cannot get vaccinated, including infants and children under 12 years of age, or people with weakened immune systems from things like chemotherapy for cancer or those with an organ transplant. Vaccines give you greater immunity compared to that from natural infection. Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask in most settings and do not need to quarantine if exposed to someone with COVID-19, as long as they do not develop symptoms.
COVID-19 will not end in one day. Pandemics start fast and end gradually. We are still in the epidemic phase of COVID-19 in the US, the next stage is control. We need to use all the tools we have available to us, to move to that next phase. That includes continued testing, treatment strategies and getting more people vaccinated.
In Albany County, as of May 17, 37% of the population and nearly 45% of adults 18 years of age and older have been fully vaccinated. You have the opportunity to improve these numbers. Vaccines continue to be available to anyone 12 and older at many local pharmacies and provider’s offices.
COVID-19 has taken its toll on all of us. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and help us all get back to doing things we were doing before the pandemic.