Vaccines, Revisited and the Message Behind the Mask

09-26-2021Nurse's LetterShannon David, RN, NCSN

Among the greatest medical advances of the past 100 years, vaccines to prevent viral illnesses have had a profound impact on the health of the world’s population. Just one year ago, a vaccine to help control the spread of coronavirus was a hoped for possibility. The week before Christmas 2020, the vaccine became a reality. Like vaccines that predated it, the coronavirus vaccine has had a significant impact on the spread of illness. The data graphs for the weeks of initial vaccine administration (MCDPH Data) provide visual evidence of its effectiveness.

On December 18, 2020 the 7-day average for new cases of COVID in Maricopa County was 4,041. Five weeks later, January 28, 2021 the 7-day average was 2,961. As vaccine eligibility was expanded, and increasing numbers of people achieved fully vaccinated status, the number of new cases dropped dramatically. Counties throughout the United States began to track vaccine administration and compare it to the emergence of new infections within their communities. (Vaccine data for Maricopa County can be viewed here: MCDPH Vaccine Data) Since the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the majority of new infections are in those people who are unvaccinated. Further, greater than 98% of those requiring hospitalization and mechanical ventilation have not been vaccinated. On September 17, 2021, the CDC published, Monitoring Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status-- 13 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–July 17, 2021, in the MMWR. Two important summary statements, from the analysis, are: “The incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection, hospitalization, and death is higher in unvaccinated than vaccinated persons, and the incidence rate ratios are related to vaccine effectiveness. Getting vaccinated protects against severe illness from COVID-19, including the Delta variant.” (MMWR 9/17/21).

Last week, the FDA granted approval and issued guidance for the administration of a single booster vaccine for the Pfizer vaccine in certain populations. It is expected that a booster dose for the Moderna vaccine will be coming soon. (Full disclosure: I continue to be a participant in the Moderna Phase III Clinical Trial, which began in August 2020.) Boosters are important. However, increasing the number of people who are initially vaccinated remains the focus of public health. As one prominent physician remarked this week, “we won’t boost our way out of this”. If you have questions concerning vaccination, please do not hesitate to contact me at (480) 967-5567 X1.

Speaking of questions, one that has been asked of me frequently, over the past 6 weeks, is along the lines of, ‘Are you trying to send a message by always wearing a mask?’ The message I hope to convey is this: I am a licensed healthcare professional who has a duty to uphold standards of care established, not by me as an individual nurse, but by a body of experts. On an average day, I interact closely with about 40 students, some of whom may be sick. To disregard the infection control standards established by the nursing profession would be inappropriate. We have asked that everyone on campus wear a mask when necessary (the parameters are outlined in our Smart, Healthy & Holy Plan), and my position makes wearing a mask necessary more often than not. In an Early Release of the September 24, 2021 MMWR, the Association Between K–12 School Mask Policies and School-Associated COVID-19 Outbreaks-- Maricopa and Pima Counties, Arizona,  July–August 2021 provides evidence that schools without mask requirements were 3.5X more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks (MMWR 9/24/21). My personal goal is the same as the one I have for everyone in this community: To remain healthy so that I can be here each and every day! 

Sts. Cosmas & Damian, pray for us!