Last week I wrote about the preventive medicine we should all be practicing, as our foremothers taught us. I took a bit of heat (in addition to what that wool scarf provides) for seeming to discount vaccines from the discussion. So please let me address that.
Preventive medicine of all sorts is good. It is far better to head off a disease than to try to cure it after one has caught it. The various preventive measures, though, are not all equal. We should all agree that vaccines are a very good thing. I do intend to have one against COVID‑19 as soon as possible. But please sit down, we have to talk about this.
I’m not a doctor, I am just a Jewish Mother, a stereotype my children emphatically affirm fits me. (“You don’t need to mention it, mom; it’s obvious!”)
The vaccines are coming out now. And there are two varieties, each of which will protect us from COVID-19 somehow. To continue last week’s metaphor, there is the garlic version (mRNA), and the dill weed version (a recombinant vector vaccine). Some of them are sort of like chicken soup, needing more than one dose. There are four major vaccines (and many others) now in trials.
But as near as I can see, in the short term they provide the opposite of our current mask-wash-distance-test strategy (let’s call it MWDT, though testing is still not generally available enough to be effective except in closed settings such as football teams, the White House, and some college campuses).
Our current method, especially for those without access to N95 masks, is to prevent ourselves from sharing our germs with others while avoiding others getting germs on us. (I know viruses are not technically “germs,” but indulge me the image, please.) The mask holds our germs close to ourselves. The distancing and washing helps us dodge the other persons’ germs.
So what happens as the vaccines are rolled out? Select individuals should become able to fight off COVID-19 when exposed. Maybe that will include you. That will be a mehayeh to the medical system. The fewer persons hospitalized, the better.
However, what does not happen is elimination of that vaccinated individual as a transmission vector. Though not incubating the disease, can a person still harbor and transmit it? I am guessing the doctors don’t know, but if so, it would be like Typhoid Mary, with the same possibilities as if the person were a non-vaccinated asymptomatic person. (We know about them, they are causing a lot of the super-spreader effects. “Stay away from that kid Mary, or else!”)
Therefore, it seems to me we will still be using our current preventive MWDT because we still will have to protect each other from whatever germs we all are harboring. (“Don’t leave the house without this scarf around your face!”)
Doctors suspect that a person’s immunity following actual infection may only last a few months. Some of those who recovered and donated plasma have had to stop donating when they no longer had antibodies. I don’t think doctors yet know how long immunity will last with a vaccine.
Therefore, until every single person has been vaccinated, or until there are no new cases for several weeks in a row, we should all still take proactive preventive measures. “Mom, keep making that soup, please!”
It will be garlic and dill weed in our veggie and chicken soup, masks on our faces, and staying as distant from others as we can get. We have no choice, because no matter how good it feels to get together, it can mean suffering and death for those we love.
Having vaccines out there does not “cure” the virus. In fact, although they will save countless lives, the vaccines do not “cure” anything, they only add to our preventive arsenal. Personally, I am way down on the vaccine priority list: I am not quite 65, am not a medical, grocery, transit, assembly line, or any other “essential” worker. So I’ve got to keep my powder dry for a while until they will allow me that fortification. And after I am vaccinated, I will still wear a mask around those who have not yet been so inoculated.
Let’s keep as much work, entertainment, religious services, meetings, etc., online as we can for a while. Let’s make sure our kids in school stay as safe as possible (give them MWDT and scarves, garlic, and chicken soup).
And let’s not let down our guard just because some folks are getting vaccinated now. (“Mom, we get it already!”) We still have to protect each other with common sense and common decency. For the common good.