This is a Q and A column written by Dr. Lydia S. Segal in conjunction with Chaffee County Public Health. This column is focused on questions readers have about COVID-19 news and sciences. As Segal points out, ‘Everything I write today is valid for today. COVID-19 news and science are rapidly evolving, assume updates will be made”
Note: Segal will be moving to writing only occasional COVID Q and A columns when there are updates of importance. Remember that it has been two years, since March 2020 when the virus was declared by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.
With more than 1,000 people a day still dying in the USA, we will achieve the unfortunate milestone of one million deaths since the pandemic started, within a month or so, according to the CDC. In Chaffee County, there have been 41 deaths.
Sixteen months ago vaccines became available in this country. To broadly summarize the vaccination status in Chaffee County, 64 percent of all citizens, including children over five, are fully vaccinated. Of those over 65 years of age, 89 percent are fully vaccinated. More data is available on the CDC website which is broken down by county. (Easiest way to find the website is type in CDC, vaccine tracker by county)
QUESTION: Are we at the end of the pandemic?
ANSWER: We are hopefully transitioning from a pandemic to COVID as a disease with periodic surges when a new variant occurs. But no one knows for sure if and when this will happen. As a review, pandemic means a major outbreak of a disease across many regions or countries. Endemic means there is an outbreak of a disease in a specific area, county, or region.
QUESTION: If we are moving to COVID as a seasonal, endemic disease much like the flu, does this mean we are returning to ‘normal’ – i.e., before March 2020, before COVID overtook our lives?
ANSWER: That really depends on two things. The first is whether or not there will be new variants of concern. Most scientists and medical professionals think strongly that is in our future. And the second question is how transmissible and how severe the disease the variants turn out to be.
If you are healthy and not at risk, then masking and social distancing for the moment in the county can be put aside. To help assess your local (i.e., county) risk, there is an excellent CDC county-level risk assessment web page. Currently, we are at “low”. However, if you are immunocompromised, or elderly with pre-existing medical conditions that put you at greater risk for having a severe case of COVID, then masking and social distancing likely continue to be an excellent idea.
Taking off one’s mask and not social distancing is a personal choice. It is guided by one’s assessment of their personal and family and close contact risk.
QUESTION: What is the news on the new variant: ‘stealth’ Omicron, aka B.2?
ANSWER: It is a sub-variant of Omicron that is even more transmissible than the original Omicron. So far, globally, it looks to also be about the same or less severe than the original type from two years ago.
QUESTION: What is the news on the 4th vaccine, also called the second booster?
ANSWER: Pfizer and Moderna are requesting emergency use authorization for a fourth dose. Each company is targeting a slightly different age and risk group. More information is forthcoming. The FDA is having a detailed discussion on April 6 and more details are likely then.
QUESTION: Is there any news on neurologic effects from COVID?
ANSWER: There is new information showing decreased size and function of several areas of the brain in some people after they have had COVID. More details as to correlation with severity of disease and age and pre-existing medical conditions have not been analyzed. Also, it is too soon to know if these changes are temporary or permanent. There are no known studies of brain changes due to other viruses to compare. The UK study is cautionary but not definitive.
QUESTION: Any updates on vaccines for the two-to-five-year-old’s?
ANSWER: We have seen an uptick in childhood hospitalizations recently. This is due to the fact that the youngest among us are not vaccinated. That is why there has been feverish work on getting a workable vaccine out for the very young. The earliest likely FDA approval may come in April. Pfizer’s two-dose study showed little in the way of protection so they added an additional dose and are waiting to see how that trial turns out. Moderna is using a higher dose but keeping to a two-dose regime. Early data shows promise. Again, as more data is released, I will review it in this column.
For more information about COVID and vaccines, eligibility, and appointments, see the links below. Pharmacies and doctors’ offices are getting small shipments of vaccines. Information will be posted in this digital news source and on the county public health and hospital web pages.
Pharmacies with vaccine clinics:
Salida: Safeway, Walmart and Salida Pharmacy
Buena Vista: Mt Shavano (LaGree’s), City Market, BV Drug and Valley-Wide Health,
If you have questions you would like Dr. Segal to address in a future COVID Q and A column, please write to email@example.com
By Lydia S. Segal, M.D., MPH