close up of a woman wearing surgical gloves and holding a vial of COVID19 vaccine

COVID-19 - January 29, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccines and Variants: Making Sense of Both

By Amber McCracken

On December 14, the world saw the first images of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine being given to brave healthcare workers in major U.S. cities. It was a welcome sight and cause for celebration! Soon after, the Moderna vaccine was also approved by the FDA for emergency use and doses were rapidly shipped to health departments and medical facilities across the country. We entered the New Year with a wave of hope that this deadly pandemic had perhaps met its match.

At Goodwin House, we have benefited from being among the first to receive the vaccine. We hosted our first clinics in late December, and we are well on our way to ensuring that 100% of residents and staff get the vaccine. We realize we are fortunate.

Now, nearly six weeks after the first vaccines were administered, the largest vaccination effort in world history has administered 82.5 million doses in 59 countries. According to the Bloomberg COVID-19 Vaccine Global Tracker, 25.6 million shots have been given in the U.S. (as of January 27), with an average of 1.21 million doses given weekly. As vaccines rolled out around the globe, new variants of the virus were also popping up. The situation will continue to evolve, and we will continue to keep up with it.

Big Numbers, Slow Progress

While these numbers seem quite large, the reality is that only 6.2% of people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a little over 1% of people receiving both doses. It’s safe to say the “warp speed” vaccine rollout has not been fast enough for most people. Lack of a federal strategy, confusion at the state levels and a dearth of doses have made it difficult to offer the vaccine to the millions of Americans who want it.

Appropriately, healthcare workers were the first to receive the vaccine, followed by residents and staff of nursing homes. After that, the priority quickly became people 75 and older.  However, on January 12, the CDC began encouraging states to start immunizing all residents 65 and older, along with those ages 16+ with certain medical conditions. This would open up vaccinations to more than a third of the U.S. population – a demand without adequate supply.

National Vaccine Distribution Struggles

According to Bloomberg’s tracker, about 47 million vaccines have been delivered to states so far, yet only 54% of the shots delivered to states have been administered. States are struggling to maximize the efficiency of administering the vaccine, while often doing so without a clear understanding of the quantity of doses they will be receiving.

Even before newly-elected President Biden took office, he introduced his $1.9 trillion dollar coronavirus economic relief plan on January 14, which included $400 billion to stop the spread of COVID-19 and increase vaccine access. During the week of January 25, the Biden administration vowed to distribute weekly a minimum of 10 million doses to states, tribes and territories. The move would add 1.4 million doses per week to what’s currently being distributed. The administration said it will try to maintain this distribution for at least the next three weeks.

How Virginia Is Doing

Virginia has ranked among the worst-performing states for getting doses out. The Bloomberg tracker reports that 1.2 million doses have been delivered to the state, with only 53.3% of the doses administered. On January 27, Gov. Ralph Northam announced changes in data reporting and vaccine distribution.

“I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians,” Northam said. “I take this seriously because I know that people just want answers. Even if the answer is they can’t get an appointment for a month or two, it’s important that everyone knows where to go and how to sign up.”

Variant Breakdown

Another concern that has surfaced in the past weeks is the efficacy of the vaccines against newly discovered mutations or “variants” of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control currently tracks three different COVID-19 variants known worldwide.

The first, B.1.1.7, was discovered in the United Kingdom in September 2020. After spreading rapidly and causing new restrictions, the variant has been discovered in several other countries, including the U.S. As of January 26, the UK variant has now spread to 26 U.S. states according to newly appointed CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Preliminary data is showing that the variant is 50% more transmissible, but there is no evidence that it is more deadly.

The second variant, 1.351, originated in South Africa and was detected in October 2020. The first U.S. cases of this variant were reported in South Carolina on January 28. Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci said a Phase 3 Johnson & Johnson vaccine study is looking at its effectiveness against the variant found in South Africa.

The P.1 variant was discovered in Brazil. The concern with this variant is that it seems to be less recognizable to antibodies, making it more difficult to control with a vaccine. Just recently, one case was identified in Minnesota. Because of its multiple mutations, this variant is of concern to the CDC and research is rapidly taking place to learn more.

During a virtual briefing from the White House COVID-19 Response on January 27, Dr. Fauci stated “We are preparing, in anticipation that the virus will continue to evolve and may get to the point where it crosses the threshold that our vaccine is no longer as effective as we want it to be. We don’t want it to happen. We hope it doesn’t happen. If it does, we’re already doing what it takes to be able to address that.”

Goodwin House Vigilance

As we pay close attention to the vaccine rollouts and the emergence of new strains of COVID-19, Goodwin House and its team of clinical leaders continue to stay on top of the latest research and news, as well as guidance from the CDC and other local health departments. Our vigilance in staying current informs our protocols. We update residents, staff and friends and family of residents through weekly communications. We also keep our COVID-19 web pages current so everyone can keep up with our infection precaution measures.

Just as we are vigilant, we are also hopeful and grateful. As modern digital technology is helping us to stay connected virtually, modern medical science is helping us to see the day when we can have happy in-person reunions, with fist bumps, high-fives and some well-deserved hugs.

Until then, stay safe!


Amber McCracken is the executive director of Current Communications, a boutique consultancy that helps organizations with their marketing and public relations activities. Amber has worked with GHI since 2014, providing her expert advice to support Goodwin House at Home. She contributes regularly to The Good Life, both as a writer and editor. Amber lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

 

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