Putting the Brakes on COVID-19
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/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2020

Putting the Brakes on COVID-19

Contagious diseases spread at different rates. COVID-19 is a pretty quick spreader, because it can move through people who don’t appear to be sick and because it can travel through the air. At the very beginning of the pandemic, not much was standing in its way. Now we have lots of ways to slow COVID-19 down. We want to use all of the tools we have developed to get the virus under control.

Individual mitigation. In the spring, we were told to wash our hands and stay away from sick people. Scientists learned that wearing a mask would help, and so we did. Individuals following these recommendations helped a little. 

Societal mitigation. State governments noted that the virus was still spreading, and they imposed restrictions on schools, dining, etc., which helped a little more, but it was still not enough. We needed a better tool. Thankfully, vaccines—the most powerful tool yet—are arriving in our communities.

Individual vaccines. Vaccines introduce a harmless piece of the germ into your body. The piece is not capable of replicating, so it can’t make you sick. Your immune system recognizes the germ part as a threat and begins to scale up efforts to fight the disease, if it shows up. When it does, your body is prepared. It can fight off the germ right away, so you don’t get sick. And you’re less likely to spread the germ to others.

Society-wide vaccines. While a few people being vaccinated is better than none, vaccines are most useful when most people get one. The more people are vaccinated the slower the disease spreads. Think of it as a door-to-door salesperson; when everyone is vaccinated, the virus has to knock on a lot of doors before it gets in.

It’s logical to assume that once you, individually, are vaccinated you can discontinue using the other tools to prevent the spread. That is not the case. I am going to go right on masking and distancing, and I hope you will too, until we are given the “all clear” from our public health professionals. Resuming normal life right away—not wearing a mask and not distancing from others—would be like releasing one brake just because you found a different one. This is a runaway train. We want to apply all the brakes at once, so we can finally bring the virus to a halt.

Please join me in sharing this information with those you know. Keep up your mitigation efforts, get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity, and encourage those you know to continue their COVID precautions and get vaccinated too. The quicker everyone does these two things, the shorter the pandemic will last.

Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is an infectious disease specialist at Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.

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