Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Life After Vaccination-When Is Normalcy Coming?
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Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, seen here stumping for governor in 2018, and Dr. David Pate say it’s almost like we’re looking at a new pandemic with the variants circulating around.
   
Friday, April 9, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

How will we know when life is approaching normalcy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?

Idaho’s seven-day moving averages of new cases per 100,000 has to be around one, then stay there.

That’s the word from Dr. David Pate, former CEO of St. Luke’s Health Systems and a member of the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force.

“There’s not going to be a time we can flip a switch and say it’s over,” he added. “We’ve lost that opportunity. We had the opportunity to squash it early on and we missed that opportunity. Now we’ve got to vaccinate our way out of this and we’re missing that, too. Not enough people are getting vaccinated.”

There are 30 countries that have not had one person vaccinated yet, Pate said.

“If we don’t stop the transmission of this virus everywhere in the world, we will have transmission and will likely get new variants, and we’ll have to keep getting subsequent vaccinations. That’s why it drives me crazy to see our leaders—our elected leaders—not wearing masks. It’s such a terrible message and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. It should be clear now that controlling the virus or the economy are not two separate choices.”

Pate and Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, founder of Crush the Curve Idaho COVID testing project, took part in a virtual conversation looking at life after the vaccine hosted by Nicole Foy of The Idaho Statesman Thursday afternoon.

Idaho’s seven-day moving average has been around 15 to 16 for the past few weeks.

Having people focus on that number is advantageous because our discussion has been around herd immunity and what percentage needs to be vaccinated for a safe return to normalcy, said Pate.

“But no one knows,” he added. “I don’t think any expert thinks we’re in good shape because of people getting vaccinated. When we achieve herd immunity, cases will get down and stay down. That’s how we will know.”

Lack of clarity about the threshold is not helping, said Ahlquist.

“Let’s set some goals. That helps us with messaging. In a leadership and information vacuum it will be filled with crazy stuff. We need to out-message the crazy.”

While it’s still too soon to be talking about what life will look after vaccination, we are close, said Pate.

“We are getting to where we can see light at the end of the tunnel, but we still are in the tunnel. But we shouldn’t get complacent. The very behavior where people throw up hands and say we’re done with it will only prolong it.”

Canada is struggling right now, as is Europe, Pate noted, as he expressed concerns about a possible fourth wave.

“People say: ‘Oh, that’s Europe.’ We’re not fighting an Idaho coronavirus or a U.S. coronavirus. This is a world coronavirus.”

And this wave will impact the 30- to 39-year-olds, as it did those in the United Kingdom, he said. The reason? Kids who were not a major source of transmission early in the pandemic, are a major source of transmission with the new variants. And they’re bringing it home to their parents, who are in their 30s.

Canada is seeing 20- to 24-year-olds in ICUs, and Michigan and New Jersey doctors are seeing the same thing, he said.

“Where are we seeing the outbreaks now? Youth sports. The things we got away with before the variants, you’re less likely to get away with the variants,” he said. “A physician tells me he went into ICUs in the early days of the pandemic and saw 60-, 70-, 80-year-olds. He goes in now and sees 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds.”

Right now, Pate said, we’re in a race of getting people vaccinated ahead of variants.

“So far, it looks like the variants are going to beat us. But, like everything in this pandemic, we know how to get control. It’s whether we will choose to get control.

NIXING THE VACCINE PASSPORT

Alhquist called Gov. Brad Little’s executive order banning government agencies from requiring proof of vaccination to do business a political stunt.

“He’s rallying to his base,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re going to have the ability to do things the unvaccinated can’t. That’s science.”

It’s foreign countries and private business that will require proof of vaccination, Pate said. A fine dining restaurant that relies on seniors for its business is going to want to give them assurance that they’re safe. Cruises are going to take only vaccinated people not because they want to keep people in but they want to get people on board. A lot of countries turned away travelers from the United States earlier in the pandemic, and some of them will likely require proof of vaccination to admit U.S. travelers now.

It’s not unprecedented to require vaccinations, he added. A lot of schools require vaccinations or an appropriate exemption. Some health care organizations require workers to be vaccinated. And proof of yellow fever and other vaccinations are needed for some travel.

ADDRESSING THOSE WITH VACCINE HESITANCY

If someone you love is resisting getting vaccinated, ask them: “What are your concerns and why do you have them?” said Ahlquist. If you listen first, then you understand where they’re coming from. A lot of times, they just have really bad misinformation. Then validate their concerns: “If that’s what you’re hearing, I can understand why you’re upset.”

“We just went through incredible year where we developed these great vaccines in a short period of time, so I’m very hopeful by fall we’ll have some sense of normal, be able to watch football,” said Pate. “But a lot of it depends on people’s response. It’s in our hands and it’s up to us how soon that will be. We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way. So far, we’ve been doing the hard way. It’s going to require vaccinating kids. And we’re getting really good information about vaccine trials for kids.”

VACCINES AND PREGNANCY

The rumors that the COVID vaccines cause infertility started with two anti-vaxxers on social media and they’re completely false, said Pate.

There’s growing evidence that vaccines for women who are intending to become pregnant is safe. In fact, researchers have discovered that mothers transfer antibodies to newborn, which helps protect the newborn. Babies have also received protection from women who are breastfeeding.

LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES

We need to learn from the mistakes we made in handling this pandemic, said Pate.

“As horrendous as this has been, in a way we got off easy because there are viruses that have 10, 30 times the mortality that COVID has.”

WILL YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT ONCE THIS IS OVER?

“I now carry sanitizer with me. When I go to the grocery store, always wiping down carts. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to shaking hands. Someone reached out to shake my hand the other day and I immediately went to elbow bump,” said Pate.

“I probably still will mask on occasion for particularly high-risk situations. I remember being on a plane and the person across the aisle was coughing like crazy. We’ve seen what masks do to decrease flu. Maybe I’ll wear a mask during flu season.”


 

 

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