COVID-19: the bad news and the good

U of M Professor John Wright getting his booster at Crutchfield Dermatology

The bad news: The pandemic is not over. Now is the time to intensify the fight.

The good news: Dying from COVID-19 has become optional for all who are eligible for the vaccine.

With the holidays at hand, two-thirds of all Americans report plans for traveling and visiting family for traditional holiday festivities. The TSA says travel is at pre-COVID levels.

Unfortunately, we are not living in a post-COVID world. Sixty-three million eligible Americans are not vaccinated against COVID-19. The number of national COVID cases has increased by 25% in the past two weeks alone.

Surge underway

Not only is the pandemic not over, but there is also a surge occurring in Minnesota, giving it one of the highest COVID-19 outbreak rates in the country. Minnesota numbers:

  • Total cases: 871,200
  • Total deaths: 9,155
  • Seven-day positive test rate: 9.85%
  • Percent of eligible fully vaccinated: 75 (MDPH data)

Hospitals and emergency rooms are at near overflow capacity with COVID-19 cases and have very few beds left. Medical staff members are burning out at unprecedented rates. The Department of Defense will be sending two medical teams of 22 members each to relieve the overflow cases of COVID-19 at HCMC and St. Cloud hospitals. Several high schools have announced temporary closings due to large-scale outbreaks. 

Doctors and medical staff are urging all Minnesotans who are eligible for vaccination to please do so. We all want the pandemic to be over, but wishing won’t get the job done. We must keep fighting and taking action. The COVID virus is a very wily virus and can produce variants like the delta version. Decreasing transmission decreases the chance of mutation.

Steps forward

To keep us winning against the pandemic, last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved the use of a smaller-dose Pfizer vaccine for those ages 5-11. This new vaccine approval is a tremendous step forward as we continue to have in-person classes and attempt to dampen the COVID-19 spread in our schools. Remember, get the second vaccination 21 days after the first. 

Other good news: The FDA, CDC, and many state governments, including Minnesota, all announced this week that booster shots should be given to all eligible adults. Johnson and Johnston should get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine if it has been more than two months since their original vaccine. 

We must not get complacent. Six months after a second vaccine, the immunity is reduced remarkably. That is why it is so important to get a booster. In the future, the Johnson and Johnson may get reclassified as a two-shot vaccine. 

If it has been more than six months since a Pfizer or Moderna second shot, a third booster will be strongly recommended and may become mandated by the government. Either a third of the same shot or a different mix-and-match for the third shot (Moderna and Pfizer only) will be acceptable and preferable.

A series of three standard shots is recommended for immunocompromised patients. Your physician will have details. There may be government mandates for vaccines for specific workers beginning January 1, 2022. Details are developing. 

The new vaccines are miraculous, but not perfect. There are breakthrough cases, but these breakthrough cases have a much better chance of survival than those who are not vaccinated.

Even more good news: There are now several medicines, including monoclonal antibodies, that can treat COVID-19 effectively if caught early. If you have any suspicion, get tested and, if positive, take action right away. 

We are lucky—one of the country’s leading COVID out-patient treatment physicians is right here in Minnesota, Dr. Holder.  If you test positive, talk to your doctor immediately. If you don’t have a doctor, call Dr. Mark Holder at MperialHealth.com

Several drug companies are developing antiviral pills that appear to be promising at decreasing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 by up to 90%. A Merck pill was recently approved in the U.K. and is under emergency use review in the U.S. Pfizer says it also has an antiviral tablet ready to launch. Both could be approved for emergency use by the end of the year or early 2022. 

I am often asked when we will be able to go “mask free.” I predict, barring any new variant, and if we can get 80%+ of the citizens vaccinated, we may be able to go “mask free” in January of 2023.

Action points:

  • Get vaccinated, Minnesota. 
  • Continue to wear masks as directed by your doctor and employ mitigation techniques such as hand washing and social distancing. 
  • Getting vaccinated will not keep you from getting COVID-19, but it will keep you from dying. Of the people who die from COVID-19, 99% are NOT vaccinated. 
  • A booster takes effect rapidly. Experts say that a significant boost in your immunity can occur in just 24-48 hours after your booster! Boosters are readily available. Consult your doctor, pediatrician, drug store, or Vaccines.gov for information about a vaccination center near you. 
  • Don’t forget to get your flu vaccine. Flu and COVID vaccines can be given the same day.
  • Dr. Zeke McKinney reports that free vaccination events will be happening every Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm at Wilson’s Image Barbershop at Broadway and Penn in North Minneapolis.
  • Finally, Crutchfield Dermatology will be offering free booster vaccinations for all ages and first-time vaccinations for children ages 5-11, those 18 and older. Call 651-290-3600 or visit CrutchfieldDermatology.com for details.

For Race and Ethnicity Vaccine data in Minnesota, go to: https://mn.gov/COVID19/vaccine/data/index.jsp.