January 4, 2021 Corona (Vaccine) Update

Questions about vaccine availability continue to pour in on emails and texts. We get it, most of you would like to have been vaccinated yesterday. Unfortunately, the roll out of vaccinations in Maryland has been a bit creaky, and this pattern is playing out in most other regions in the country. Communication from the state has been spotty. County departments of public health have been overwhelmed with requests for vaccinations.

Rest assured, when we know more about how and where to get a vaccine, we will use this forum to communicate with you immediately. For those 75 and over, there will likely be an opportunity to get vaccinated by the end of January. For the youth among us, that is those under age 75, you are likely looking at February or March to get your first injection.

We have received questions about when people with higher risk conditions such as diabetes can get the vaccine. Right now, it does not look like you can butt in line. Because of the complexities of assessing each patients’ individual medical histories, it looks like public health departments will stick with your birth date to make the determination of when you are eligible for the needle.

All of this is in flux, and I suspect things will become much more organized over the next 30 to 60 days. We are almost there, so be patient.

On the research front, the New England Journal of Medicine, just posted the study which led the FDA to approve the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, and it is quite interesting. Thirty thousand patients were divided into a vaccine group, and a placebo group. Of the 15,000 patients in the vaccine group, 11 contracted the virus, confirmed by PCR testing from a nasal swab, but none got sick from the virus. In the placebo group, 185 patients tested positive for the virus, 30 got severely ill, and one died. There were no major side effects in either group.

So, the vaccine appears very effective in both preventing infection with the virus at all (only 11 out of 15,000 people tested positive) and preventing the severe form of disease (0 out of 15,000 got sick) This is such great news and implies that we will be eating ribs at the Adam’s bar, going to Ravens games, and generally making fools of ourselves the way we were accustomed to, in the foreseeable future, without the risk of dropping dead a few days later. Here is to the mRNA scientists who figured this out. I will never bad mouth a drug company again, at least for a while.

You have undoubtedly heard about the newest strain of the coronavirus, which is more communicable, but apparently not more deadly than the old coronavirus which we have come to know and love. Who came up with this idea?  If you are thinking, “Damn, can’t we catch a break on anything?” The answer would be no. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA director, who I pay attention to on all matters Covid, said on Sunday morning that right now, the mutated virus represents about 1% of all cases in the USA but by March it could represent the majority of cases. He said that the mutation could drive up case numbers of the virus beyond what we are currently experiencing. He said that it would be a good idea to liberalize the availability of the vaccine (which apparently does work against the mutated virus) to just get as many doses out as possible to try to stop the sucker.

Lastly, I have found the website covidactnow.org (applewebdata://AF6457B5-4BA1-4EE6-97EA-49418D680837/covidactnow.org) to be particularly useful on tracking the pandemic. There is a simple chart which lists the cases per population, the infectivity or R number, and the positivity rate for every state and every county in the country. Following trends over the last 3 weeks, the infectivity rate has gone below 1 in about 40 states, implying that the virus is beginning to recede, despite very high numbers of current cases. This could change after the Christmas Holiday depending on how much time celebrants spent under the mistletoe, but it is likely that we are now riding the final wave of this thing.

So stay positive, and rest assured, we will let you know right away when we know more about vaccines.

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Severna Park Medical Associates sends out information pertinent to our patients’ health, announcements of closings, and office changes. Our patients can now use email, rather than a phone call, to communicate non-urgent information with us. We can also send lab results and other information to patients directly.