Wanting the Pandemic to be Over is Not Enough

March 19, 2021 7:15 PM

Thousands of people are still getting sick, so responsible behavior is still key, even after vaccination

The end of the pandemic seems to be so close we can almost smell it, like the scent of spring flowers on a warm breeze after a hard winter.

But a new surge of COVID-19 cases in Michigan, other states and nations is appearing just as vaccination ramps up and more people become eligible. A new public health order just went into effect for Michigan.  

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In a recent video chat, three experts from Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center, discussed what all of us need to be doing at this moment in the pandemic.

Some key takeaways:

  • Remember that thousands of people are still getting sick and dying from COVID-19 each day in the United States, even if most of the public and media attention focuses on vaccination.

  • Millions of high-risk people are still not fully vaccinated, and could get seriously ill if they’re exposed to coronavirus; half of all cases result from “silent spread” from a person who’s infected but doesn’t have symptoms.

  • Some of the “new variants” of the virus are more contagious, so they can spread faster. The more the virus spreads between people, the more chance it has to mutate into additional variants.

  • Everyone still needs to be wearing masks, avoiding large indoor gatherings and resisting the urge to travel, even if they’re vaccinated.

  • Everyone should get vaccinated as soon as a dose becomes available to them. Data on millions of vaccinated people show the available vaccines are all safe and highly effective, with minimal side effects.

  • Anyone with concerns about getting vaccinated should talk to a health care provider, rather than relying on what they see on social media or hear through word of mouth.

  • Someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19 should wait at least 10 days after the test before getting vaccinated – but should wait longer if they have active symptoms.

  • Even after getting vaccinated, it’s still possible that you were already silently infected, or that you could still get infected. This means you could develop COVID-19 or spread the virus to others before the vaccine takes full effect.

  • Vaccines take full effect about two weeks after the last dose of a two-dose vaccine, or two weeks after a dose of a single-dose vaccine.

  • Vaccinated people can have small outdoor or indoor gatherings without masks with other vaccinated people. They can also visit a small number of unvaccinated people who aren’t at high risk of severe COVID-19 and don’t live with someone who is at high risk.

  • The health and economic effects of the pandemic continue to take a higher toll on certain groups, including people of color, low-income people and people with chronic conditions and disabilities. That’s why health officials are prioritizing people in these categories for vaccination.

“We still have a long road ahead, even with three vaccines,” says Preeti Malani, M.D., infectious disease physician and chief health officer for the U-M community.

Over the past year, following the science and data on coronavirus transmission has helped slow its spread, so we must continue to do so. She also points to recent data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, which she directs, suggesting that older high-risk adults are more likely to get vaccinated than earlier data suggested.  

Those data include encouraging signs about vaccination attitudes among older Black and Hispanic adults. That’s important because of the unequal toll that the pandemic has taken on people of color.

“This pandemic highlights longstanding national issues with health care disparities,” says David J. Brown, M.D., associate vice president and associate dean for health equity and inclusion. “We need to target vaccine to people by going to them, especially those who don’t have transportation or technology access.”

He notes that the U-M Medical School is changing education for medical students and residents, to increase understanding of these disparities and the critical need to engage with patients in a way that shows understanding and builds trust and open communication.

"Vaccines are not an overnight solution. But I’m very optimistic that if we can get people vaccinated we can outrun the variants and be successful."
Laraine Washer, M.D.

Laraine Washer, M.D., medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology for Michigan Medicine, calls the vaccines an “exit strategy” for the pandemic that was only made possible by decades of scientific research that led to rapid development of multiple vaccines.

“We need to decrease the number of new cases to reduce the chance for new variants to emerge,” she emphasizes. “Vaccines are not an overnight solution. But I’m very optimistic that if we can get people vaccinated we can outrun the variants and be successful.”

That future may include booster shots for COVID-19 to make sure we build up immunity to new variants if any “outsmart” the vaccines being given now. It might also include voluntarily wearing masks to slow the spread of influenza and other respiratory illness. Brown also hopes it includes more acceptance of workers staying home when they are sick for any reason, and working from home when possible while they have symptoms, to avoid transmitting infections.

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