Coronavirus—The Latest News and Information
The United States reached a milestone in its fight against coronavirus with 50 percent of the adult population or nearly 130 million adults, fully vaccinated, according to data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Prior to the May 25th announcement about reaching the milestone, the CDC had given the go-ahead for fully vaccinated people to take off their masks when they are inside or outside (except where federal, state, and local regulations apply).
To be fully vaccinated means receiving two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. The CDC says the COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing coronavirus.
But some health officials advise the fully vaccinated group not to be too hasty in ditching their masks since they are still at risk for developing—and transmitting—the coronavirus. Experts say that even if fully vaccinated people develop COVID-19, it would not be as severe as it would be in those who are not vaccinated.
With half of the adult population vaccinated, health officials are noticing that the supply for vaccinations is exceeding demand. Now, states with unused doses are getting creative in reaching those who are hesitant about getting vaccinated or those who want to get vaccinated but have difficulties doing so, such as homebound seniors or older adults who do not have access to technology to schedule appointments.
Jennifer Nuzzo, the lead public health researcher for the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative, said the focus now is on the hard-to-reach populations.
“As much as I do think the demand is falling, I think there are still people who very much want to get it but haven’t been able to,” Nuzzo said. “I don’t think we have moved past the access issue.”
Health officials are also focusing on people who are skipping their second COVID-19 shot. CDC data shows that 61 percent of adults had at least one dose. This has health officials questioning whether the United States will reach herd immunity, the point where a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to COVID-19. Immunity makes transmitting the virus from one person to another unlikely.
Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, Pfizer’s partner in developing the vaccine, suggested that Europe, which once lagged behind the United States and the United Kingdom in the number of fully vaccinated people, could reach herd immunity in July or no later than August. Sagin predicted that 50 to 60 percent of the will have received the vaccine by the end of June.
In the meantime, U.S. health officials are examining reasons why people are missing their second shot.
Skipping the Second Dose
Some people say they did not return for their second shot because they had trouble getting an appointment at the same location.
Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, an infectious diseases expert at St. Luke’s University Hospital Network in Pennsylvania, said the hospital has a 99 percent success rate in getting people fully vaccinated because the network scheduled the second appointment when the first shot was given. And, the network sends multiple reminders about the second appointment.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, and CNN medical analyst suggest health professionals work on making sure that appointment scheduling is more convenient.
“Anything we can do to get vaccines out to doctors’ offices, to pharmacies, to workplaces, to schools, wherever it is that people are, is really important,” Wen said.
Besides appointment scheduling, some people are not returning for their second dose because they have heard others complain about having more side effects. Headaches, fever, chills, and fatigue are just a few of the short-term side effects reported by people who received the second dose.
A common response for people who feel terrible after the second shot is: “This means that your immune system is strong.” Not true, says Dr. Robert Finberg, a specialist in infectious diseases and immunology at the Medical School at the University of Massachusetts.
The side effects only mean that the immune system is responding to foreign materials in the body, Finberg said. This innate immune response only lasts for a few hours or a few days, and does not determine how well the vaccine is working in your body, Finberg explained.
The focus, Finberg said, should be on the “adaptive immune response,” which is a longer-lasting defense. In this response, the immune system’s T and B cells are trained to recognize foreign material, like the protein from the coronavirus, Finberg said.
Once the cells recognize foreign matter, they create antibodies to fight against them. When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, it takes about two weeks to develop the adaptive response that brings long-lasting protection against the virus, Finberg said.
Are COVID-19 Booster Shots Needed?
There’s no question that Americans are getting vaccinated, even if it’s just one dose. But, questions are being raised over whether booster shots are needed to protect against variants of the coronavirus circulating across the United States.
The CDC is tracking COVID-19 variants from Brazil, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom that could possibly weaken the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said he is not sure whether COVID-19 booster shots are necessary or at what point they will be necessary.
Although it is not clear whether the existing COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the variants, Pfizer and Moderna are developing booster shots against the viral strains.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bouria said people who received two shots may need a booster within eight to 12 months following the second dose. Bouria expects data from its ongoing clinical trials to confirm whether a booster shot is needed.
Eli Lilly and Co and AbCellera Biologics Inc. are reportedly developing an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 that can “potently” neutralize variants from the UK, Brazil, South Africa, and those identified early this year in New York and California.
Vitamin D Seen as Potential COVID-19 Treatment
Although studies are showing the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, scientists continue their research on using vitamin D to treat and prevent coronavirus.
The interest in the supplement began in the early stages of the pandemic when medical professionals found certain groups (such as age, ethnicity, and obesity) that had been hit hardest by COVID-19 also had low vitamin D levels.
A study published in September by researchers at the University of Chicago found that people with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to test positive for COVID-19.
The federal government’s registry of clinical trials lists about 50 studies on vitamin D and its relation to COVID-19 that are either underway or recruiting participants.
Dr. Robert Shmerling, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing said it’s too early to tell whether vitamin D is helpful in treating or preventing COVID-19.
But, the 50 ongoing studies will shed some light on “who really benefits from extra vitamin D and who doesn’t,” he said.