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Get The Best COVID-19 Information You Can

Director’s Column

As we start to open up our senior centers and congregate meal sites, I am getting questions from older adults about how vaccines work.

Can we mandate that everyone who comes into our building be vaccinated? And are we protected from the Delta variant of COVID-19? I will try to answer these questions in this article but realize that information is changing as time passes. Information is changing because we are learning more as millions of people have been vaccinated and as the virus changes. Your best source of information is our local county health department as it bases its guidance not only on the most current state and federal guidance but also on what is actually happening here in our county. Visit the county health department website at chqgov.com/public-health/novel-coronavirus-covid-19. The county is recommending that everyone follow the CDC’s guidance and rely on it as a trusted source of health information — visit www.cdc.gov.

If you prefer other sources of information rather than local government then make sure the information you are getting is from a trusted source that does their research and bases their information on facts not rumors or opinion. Anyone can say anything on the internet! I like the Kaiser Family Foundation for their analysis of health care information. They do their own independent research and help people make sense of conflicting information about healthcare and health issues. John Hopkins University and Medicine is another I rely on. Vox is a news source that tries to make health issues easy for everyone to understand. I like Vox’s video about variants and why you can’t compare COVID-19 vaccines. Many people like WebMD to do research on their health conditions and they have extensive information on COVID-19. I especially like their video explaining how the COVID-19 vaccines were developed.

So one thing people have been concerned about is how fast the vaccines were made. Vaccines have been around for a long time. (See that Web MD video). Every year, we produce a new flu vaccine based on the deadliest strains that are emerging around the world and no one says anything about how fast those were developed. Granted COVID-19 was a new virus but the techniques and technology were already there. Unlike annual flu vaccine development where only a few companies work on making it, there were thousands of scientists and hundreds of companies around the world all working on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Can you imagine if the whole scientific community around the world stopped what they were doing for a year to focus on finding a cure for one type of cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease? It is not surprising to me that with so many scientists working together and countries sharing information, we were able to produce these vaccines more quickly than usual.

Thousands of people got the COVID vaccine during the trials and since then millions of people have gotten them with very few side effects. Compare them to the side effects of other vaccines like flu, polio, and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella). Did you know that vaccines are not designed to totally block you from getting the virus? Instead, vaccines prepare your body so you can fight off the virus with a goal of preventing severe disease and death. During the trials of every COVID vaccine, not one person died or was hospitalized no matter which vaccine they got, J&J, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, or Moderna. Pretty great! Those that did get COVID had mild to moderate symptoms. See the Vox video (Why you can’t compare COVID-19 vaccines) for more details.

The next question people ask me is, “Am I protected against COVID variants?” For now the answer is yes. Scientists believe that the virus has not changed significantly from its original form, so if you have been vaccinated, then you have protection against the current COVID-19 variants – but that may not last. As COVID-19 continues to spread, it can change when it replicates itself in every person it infects. When you make millions of copies of something, mistakes happen. Sometimes these mistakes make the organism stronger and sometimes weaker. Think about corn. Farmers will tell you that if we gave you the corn that Columbus had when he came to America, you would not find it very appetizing. So what happened? As farmers grew corn over hundreds of years, they saved the seeds from the strongest and best tasting to plant the next year. These were variants from the original Indian corn. Since we selected and planted only the variants that were most appealing, corn changed and evolved into the yummy sweet corn we enjoy today. COVID-19 variants basically evolve the same way but they don’t need a farmer or soil. They only need people to get the disease and pass it on to another person where it can grow and change. Many variations have happened over the last 18 months but the ones that weaken the virus die out on their own and only the stronger variations get passed to new people. That is why we are hearing that the Delta variant is becoming the dominant strain. See the Vox video: Why so many COVID-19 variants are showing up.

If you have already made up your mind about COVID-19 and getting vaccinated, there is probably nothing I can say to you that will change how you think or feel about it. However, if you are still undecided and confused with so much information bombarding you, then I urge you to talk with someone who has been hospitalized or has lost a family member to the virus.

Since January, my staff and I have spoken to thousands of older adults and their family members who were anxious to get vaccinated. I will never forget one of the first vaccine appointments I made for an 85-year-old man who lived outside of Jamestown. I made his appointment on a Friday. When I called him back to remind him on Sunday morning, he was in the hospital with COVID. He died the next day. My friend, who is in her 60s, had no health problems but still spent 3.5 weeks on a ventilator until she got convalescent plasma which finally started her recovery. COVID-19 left her with total body paralysis and it took more weeks in the hospital and several months in rehab before she was able to go home. She is still struggling with fatigue and other issues. She wishes she could speak to everyone who thinks getting COVID is “no big deal.”

I am sure most of us may know someone who got it and had very mild symptoms. Two of my nephews and my brother, who is a physician, had COVID-19 and thankfully have not had any ongoing health issues. All of these people, including my friend, have gotten vaccinated since. Why? Because the science says the vaccine gives you better protection than having had the virus. Why do we get the shingles vaccine since most of us have had chicken pox? Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus that is dormant in everyone who had it as a child. When we get older and our immune system weakens, it can reactivate the virus causing a very painful and sometimes debilitating rash. The pain can linger even though the rash goes away. We need to think about the COVID-19 vaccine in the context of what we know about all the other vaccines we have had in our lifetime. I wonder if you would feel the same about those vaccines if they all had all the scrutiny and media attention that COVID-19 vaccine has had?

If you need more information on anything in the article, call our NY Connects Helpline at (716) 753-4582. You can find the links and videos I mention on our Facebook page.

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