Opinion: COVID booster shots possible in fall

We are witnessing the fourth surge of COVID-19 cases since the disease was first detected at the end of 2019. According to the Los Angeles Times, there were 4,232,845 confirmed cases in California as of August 17, 2021. The 7-day average is 12,102 new cases per day, and that represents a 32 percent increase over the past two weeks.


Nearly 65,000 people have died from the disease, and the state’s 7-day average is 45.4 deaths per day. Over the past two weeks, that is an increase of 77.7 percent. Currently, about two-thirds of Californians are at least partially vaccinated. The Times reports that the number of cases is rapidly rising, while vaccinations are slowing. Hospitalizations have increased 64.5 percent from two weeks ago.


So far, one out of every ten unvaccinated Californians has tested positive for coronavirus. The Times indicates that the increasing percentage of positive tests, unless stopped, will double every 257 days. Right now, the number of new cases per day in California is higher than it was in June, 2020. And that is also true of Madera County, which now has nearly 6,000 confirmed cases and a 14-day average of 116 new cases per day.


What can we expect?


The dynamics of this pandemic have been somewhat predictable in that super-spreader events over the past 18 months have resulted in dramatic increases of the disease. The current spike in new cases is probably due to communities rushing a relaxation of rules once the statistics showed a diminution in the number of new and active cases.


Nearly all of us wanted our restaurants to begin serving indoors again, we wanted to attend concerts, and we wanted our schools to reopen. Stores posted signs advising unvaccinated people to wear masks when entering.


The problem with all of the above is that public safety has relied on the honor system. Ever since vaccines became available at the beginning of the year, people have been told about the importance of being vaccinated. However, as the data show, one of every three Californians remains unvaccinated. And, there’s no way to know if the people in line next to you have been protected with the vaccine.


Authorities have emphasized the fact that a vaccination not only protects the person who gets the injection, but also prevents that person from spreading the disease to others. The corollary to that statement is that unvaccinated people who test positive but have no symptoms can and do spread the disease to others.


While the data that I report applies to California, and — proportionately — to Madera County, it is important to understand that irresponsible behavior anywhere has undesirable effects everywhere. With domestic flights by air now possible, a disease contracted in Florida can be carried anywhere within the U.S. In other words, so long as even a small minority of us is vulnerable, all of us are in jeopardy. And, in California, that minority is huge.


Boosters coming in fall


On top of the problems that I’ve already stated, there other looming complications. The delta variation seems to be more deadly than the original virus, and it spreads more quickly and more easily. So far, the current vaccines seem to be effective against it. However, like some other vaccinations, the covid vaccines have limited “life spans.”


Consider the vaccine for influenza. We need to get vaccinated every year. Some people have said that the situation with the flu vaccine is different because each year the manufacturers create a mixture for the viruses that are suspected to be prevalent during the coming winter. But that statement should be made for the covid vaccine, as well.


We already know that the delta strain of covid has been active this summer. Because this mutation has occurred, there is reason to believe that an epsilon strain and a gamma strain will be encountered somewhere down the road. Beyond that, the effectiveness of the current covid vaccine wanes over time so that it may be less effective a number of months after it has been delivered.


Both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are advising us to get a booster shot approximately eight months after our last inoculation. For people with compromised immune systems, that dose is scheduled for September. Because I got my second shot on March 3, I probably won’t be able to get the booster until November, although I’d like to receive it sooner.


Meanwhile…


Between now and when the next dose of vaccine is available, what can we do? The answer is obvious, at least to me. Until this pandemic is as “dead” as small pox or polio, we need to observe the same precautions that were advised at the beginning of the pandemic.


Although I am supposedly immune because of vaccination, I still wear a face mask when I’m indoors and many other people are in close contact. I wash my hands often, especially after I’ve been outside my home and have touched a shopping cart or anything that can carry the virus. Although I do enjoy going to restaurants, I’m careful with close contact, and I’m vigilant in keeping my hands clean.


The surge in cases of covid is real. Anti-vaxxers continue to spread the disease. The availability of ICU beds is limited and being stressed again. Pediatric cases are rising. Because schools have opened just this past week, we don’t know what impact that will have. So, our best course of action is to take all the precautions that are available to us. This is not the political choice that some people believe. It is a public health necessity.


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Jim Glynn, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.