Monday, January 15, 2024

COVID - forgotten but not gone

Understandably, most of us have developed “Covid fatigue.” After what seems like years of warnings and behavior changes, we want to put it all behind us. Unfortunately, while we are tired of the virus, the virus is not tired of us.

The latest variant to appear, JN.1, is much more transmissible that its predecessor even though it has only a minor genetic change. It has rapidly become the dominant strain hitting the U.S. and much of the world. Fortunately, the last vaccine, aimed at an earlier variant, seems to be very protective against severe illness and death, even if not that good at preventing infection.

While not nearly as dramatic as the situation of 2-3 years ago, both case counts and deaths have been trending up. For the last period for which we have complete data, some 1500 Americans are dying of Covid every week – most, but not all, older and/or with severe underlying illnesses, and most not up to date on their vaccines.

Only 19% of adults 18 and older and 8% of children have received the current vaccine. Of those 65 and older, at highest risk of severe disease, only 38% have been fully vaccinated.

What should we do?

First and most important, get your booster! Vaccines only work when you get them.

Second, wear a well-fitted mask when you are indoors with lots of people. Think concerts, bridge games, indoor sporting events. While not a panacea, masks do cut down transmission of both Covid and other respiratory viruses such as colds and flu.

Finally, if you are sick, stay home. You do not want to be the one who recovers but finds out that you gave the virus to your elderly aunt who died. There will always be another event.

For those who do get sick, treatments are available that help. Paxlovid is under-used. In the older population, it cuts hospitalization and death by more than half. If you are very high risk, IV antibody treatments are even more effective.

We do not want or need to go back to the days of school closures and shuttered restaurants, but we can and should do these simple things that protect us all.

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