The Truth About COVID-19
I’m sorry, but I originally trained to be a biologist and have difficulty relying on hearsay from fact-deniers when dealing with a lethal worldwide pandemic. Yes, there are treatments for the original variants of COVID-19 (the SARS-CoV-2 virus) derived from antibodies in the blood of survivors. There are also treatments for some of the symptoms of the infection. Fortunately. they do reduce mortality from the original virus strains. Those treatments must be relied upon when our primary responses to the pandemic have failed.
Sadly, there are also a myriad of phony and even dangerous COVID treatments being spread by the misinformed and by charlatans — things like horse dewormers and hydroxychloroquine. These are literally thousands of times more risky to someone than the new vaccine technologies.
The only proven way to halt a pandemic is to achieve group immunity (more often called herd immunity, a veterinary term). Group immunity works because viruses cannot replicate themselves. They reproduce by modifying the genetic material in living cells, turning the cells into tiny factories for making more copies of the virus itself. If a virus cannot infect a living host, it cannot reproduce itself. If there are not enough available hosts because they are spread too thinly in a population, a viral epidemic will eventually fade away. Typically we need over 75% of a population to be immune for group immunity to work.
With coronaviruses, like COVID-19, there is another problem. They are notable for frequently mutating when they are replicated. That means that group immunity is harder to achieve because over time there is enough variation among virus strains that immunity to one variant may not provide immunity to a new variant. Those not vaccinated or otherwise immune become the factories within which the new variants are created — representing a serious challenge to ever reaching group immunity.
The longer we take to achieve high enough rates of vaccination, the harder it will be to reach a state of group immunity.
Given modern trade and travel, if we do not achieve worldwide group immunity, the pandemic will never really end. There will always be new variants and successful mutations select for improved viral transmission rates — unfortunately, higher mortality rates are often an incidental side effect.
If you have not yet been vaccinated, you probably do not know that the CDC tracks many of us who have been vaccinated. Initially, I received a text every day on my mobile phone, and then every week, asking me to answer a set of questions about the state of my health. After 2 months the frequency was further reduced. The CDC maintains a huge (identity blind) database on the health and any unusual symptoms of vaccinated individuals in the U.S., so that problems with any type of vaccine can be quickly spotted.
The speed with which COVID-19 vaccines were certified for emergency use is partly due to the new technologies used to create them. Historically, vaccines were made with attenuated (essentially inactive) viruses or grown in living tissue (like chicken embryos). This was the best we could do, because we had neither the knowledge nor the tools to engineer vaccines ourselves. We needed nature to do it for us.
There was some risk (allergic or severe adverse reactions) with those vaccines, but those risks were infinitesimally small relative to the risks from the diseases themselves. There is no credible evidence that things like autism have any relationship to vaccination. However, there is irrefutable evidence in our human genome that past viral infections have altered our own DNA.
You are probably too young to remember diphtheria, whooping cough, smallpox, or polio. I’m 75 and saw too many children killed or crippled by polio before effective vaccines (Salk and Sabin) were developed. As a toddler, my wife almost died from whooping cough. Today’s anti-vaxers get away with it because of the universal vaccinations of the past. In my childhood, no one was allowed to attend public schools without the full set of mandatory vaccinations. Unfortunately, because of anti-vaxers, some of those almost extinct diseases are making a comeback — and we no longer have much group immunity to them.
The gene editing technologies and the knowledge of our immune systems that came out of the war on AIDS have enabled us to actually engineer vaccines. We no longer must use those primitive vaccine technologies with their inherent risks. We created safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines within months, rather than the year or more the old technologies would have taken. Vaccines that can exploit a tiny piece of a protein spike that exists on the surface of the virus to enable it penetrate a living cell.
That inert speck, without needing the real virus, is enough to educate our immune systems to attack and kill any virus or cell that carries the same speck (is infected)—thereby preventing replication of the virus. The chance that this speck will trigger a severe human allergic response is less than 1 in a million. The chance that such a reaction will cause permanent injury or death is less than 1 in 7 million. Compare that to the risk from the virus itself.
The emergency authorization to use the new vaccines was necessary because government rules and regulations have not yet caught up with vaccine technology and still require longer waiting periods. The risks from the pandemic were great enough to warrant the greater urgency of an emergency authorization. The initially approved vaccines have been verified safe and effective and most have now met the old timing requirements. They are now being granted fully approved status for persons over 12-years old.
The fear, uncertainty, and doubt created by the misinformed, or by those with their own financial or political motives, have hindered our nation’s response to this very real and deadly pandemic. Due to the COVID-19 Delta variant, we are now experiencing the highest infection rates of 2020–21 and will almost certainly reach a million COVID-19 deaths in America. At least half of those deaths could have been prevented. The longer we delay vaccinations, the more variants we will have to confront. If we get a variant with a high enough mortality rate, our nation and the world might take a generation to recover from the death and disruption. This is a real threat to all of us and we will only defeat it by working together. Choose wisely, your decisions can help or harm others.