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Health Matters: Updates on the corona pandemic

Conway McLean, DPM, Journal columnist

Strange times, they say, a phrase often repeated in the days and weeks of the Corona virus. Living through a pandemic is not an easy thing for everyone. The uncertainty surrounding the behavior of this novel virus has been a critical issue in modern medicine. As the pandemic has raged, we have learned more. Although many questions remain, our understanding of the Coronavirus as well as the vaccine, and how (well) it works, have all grown tremendously.

Science is a process involving many steps, from gathering data to formulating a theory, then proving it. None of them were skipped in the formulation and production of the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines and both have performed as promised from the follow-up studies. Side effects have all been temporary, mild, and self-limiting. The most frequent is tenderness at the injection site, although a headache the next day was also commonly seen.

Surprisingly, some continue to have concerns about coming down with the virus as a result of getting the vaccine. It is not scientifically possible for an individual to develop a Coronavirus infection from any of the currently used COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines utilize tiny fragments of the virus, and no cases following vaccination have been reported. To be accurate, little is definitively known about the effectiveness, consequences, or side effects of the Russian or Chinese vaccines.

When will every American who wants to get vaccinated be able to get one? Most states have concentrated on those groups considered high-risk: people over 65, healthcare workers, and residents of long-term care facilities. The new administration has prioritized improved availability to the vaccine. Although a definitive schedule has been impossible, the latest timeline for vaccinations claims there will be enough doses to vaccinate every American by the end of July.

Recent data reveals the weekly average case count has dropped 22% over the last week to about 86,000 cases (which is still too much). But we can say with certainty that the Coronavirus infection is much more severe than seasonal influenza. Of those patients that were hospitalized, there was a 3.5 times greater risk of death for those admitted with COVID-19 than patients admitted with influenza.

Much attention has been directed to young people and their handling of the virus. The number of young adults testing positive for COVID-19 has increased dramatically in recent weeks across many states. More than half of those testing positive for the first time in Texas were under the age of 35. In California, 44% of the new cases were in that age group.

A likely shift in this demographic is due to a lack of proper and recommended practices, such as social distancing and wearing masks. Younger people are more likely to ignore restrictions, obviously at a higher rate than older, more responsible populations. In surveys, 30% of people aged 18 to 24 were staying away from other people and 44% said they consistently wore a mask in public.

Another cause for concern has been the appearance of variants, simply variations on the make-up and function of this coronavirus. But it has long been known that viruses constantly change through mutation. New variations of a virus are expected to occur over time. On occasion they persist, more often disappear eventually. Many of these variants of the COVID-19 virus have been documented globally during this pandemic.

To date, the evidence indicates both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are effective against the new forms identified. Because this is a ever-changing situation, and a new one to the great majority of humanity, the data collected brings new insight. Still, the experts state emphatically vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, with all its stresses and concerns. They emphasize the importance of vaccination to make it less likely the variants will take over.

One of the biggest questions, frequently posed, is why do some people have few complications and others significant and lasting health consequences? Why do some people have mild coronavirus cases, or no symptoms at all, while others rapidly fall ill and die? As to be expected, genetic makeup plays an important role in the potentially fatal illness experienced by some people infected by the coronavirus. As most of us have heard, it is clear age is of great importance, with a close association between increasing age and greater illness.

If we were to disregard hereditary factors (over which we have no control) or age (same again), four major health conditions seem to be the major players. The evidence indicates four cardiometabolic conditions lead to a predictably higher rate of hospitalization and complications due to COVID-19. They are obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, in order of significance. When it comes to disease prevention, specifically from the Coronavirus, why isn’t the message being spread: lose weight and probably avoid hospitalization. Lose your diabetes with exercise and stay out of step ER.

On a positive note, the “numbers,” the latest snapshot of new cases and hospitalizations, are moving in the right direction. Interestingly, scientists disagree on the cause of this positive note. Still, we remain in the midst of a very serious pandemic and the economic damage continues to mount. This global event has tested our ability to cooperate, to plan, to show wisdom. As a society, what successes can we claim in the battle against this on-going contagion? Will we forget the measures that led to this small downturn?

Masking and social distance, as well as contact tracing, have helped to slow this dreadful infection. Still, those knowledgeable agree, the scientists who have relentlessly studied and sacrificed (themselves on occasion), vaccination is the means by which we, as a culture, will move forward. This is the way to the lowest death tolls, the least disruption to our economy. Vaccination has a long and successful history, allowing us to nearly eradicate numerous diseases. Now is the time to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and wipe out this deadly disease.

Editor’s note: Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine in the Upper Peninsula, with a move of his Marquette office to the downtown area. McLean has lectured internationally on wound care and surgery, being double board certified in surgery, and also in wound care. He has a sub-specialty in foot-ankle orthotics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions or comments atdrcmclean@outlook.com.

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