Jun. 23—With the ready availability of three major vaccines, many people believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will soon evaporate like the fog of an exceptionally bad dream.
Herd immunity is the catchphrase that has circulated for months as the goal to reach, and now as restrictions are being lifted statewide in many states, there is a growing belief that herd immunity has been — or will soon be — reached. But health professionals across the state and the country are saying that belief is inaccurate and detrimental, with sometimes lethal results.
There are two key reasons for this, one being that herd immunity is only reached when a very large percentage of a population has contracted and survived the disease, and the other is if a large-enough percentage of the population has been vaccinated against the disease.
Added into the difficulty of reaching herd immunity is also the fact that the disease itself mutates, creating variants that can be more communicable and possibly more deadly than the original. Another telling reason herd immunity is problematic is that by its very nature it deals in large numbers; and herd immunity does not completely remove the possibility that an unprotected individual will get sick. It simply lowers the probability that the disease is present and could spread to an unprotected individual.
Dr. Mark Detherage, of King's Daughters Medical Center, said when the vaccines first became available, the demand exceeded the supply.
"Here locally we did everything we could to follow Kentucky and the CDC recommendations on how to distribute those," Detherage said. "And we did quite a bit of work then both to distribute it to the recommended groups, and also ultimately to the whole community when the supply became much more readily available."
Detherage said those procedures continued for several weeks, but the available amount of vaccine, as well as additional brands of vaccine, quickly ramped up. "And then we transitioned to being able to offer the vaccines to more and more people," he said. The overall process locally has gone smoothly, Detherage said.
The numbers of individuals vaccinated, of course, vary by county and state across the country, but Detherage said no matter how you view the numbers, he does not believe that we are where we need to be.
"If you look at individuals over the age of 65 who have received the vaccine, it is far greater than the percentage of individuals who are eligible to receive it and have received it under the age of 40. So, I think it really is the younger folks who need to step it up to help us meet the increased vaccination numbers."
Detherage said that people need to remember that COVID-19 is no less dangerous than it was during the beginning of the pandemic.
"Thankfully, those that, to this point, have been the most vulnerable have taken the vaccine. But we see all the time where new variants have formed. Right now, there is the Delta variant that seems to be the one that will become the most common form of COVID that is out there. And it is a more infectious form of the virus, but thankfully the vaccines so far have proven themselves to be reasonably effective against that variant. But we worry that if we don't increase our vaccination numbers locally, statewide and nationally, we could potentially see another surge in cases."
The best course, Detherage said, was for all those individuals who have not yet received their vaccination to do so as soon as possible.
"The analogy I use with my patients is that you wear your seat belt in the car to protect yourself just in case you get into an accident. And the argument that you haven't been in a car wreck yet doesn't mean you shouldn't wear your seat belt," Detherage said. "We still don't know all the long-term or even short-term health issues that come with contracting COVID; and with variants coming through, it's possible that if you do contract COVID even as a younger, healthier person, the effects could be severe."
The vaccines themselves are safe to take, Detherage said.
"So far we have had a tremendous system in place nationally for the reporting of adverse effects from the vaccines," he said. "And folks are given the information on how to report adverse effects at the time they are given the vaccine. All the vaccines have been shown to be both safe and effective. And to our knowledge there are no adverse effects from the vaccines when the individual has underlying health issues. In fact, I would go so far as to say the opposite. If you have an underlying condition, there are much more negative effects if you contract COVID itself."
Detherage said at KDMC it is best to make an appointment to receive the vaccine.
"And there are many options as far as where you can go to receive it. The KDMC Pavilion (formerly the Bellefonte Pavilion) is one place where you can receive a vaccination, and we are setting up a drive-through by appointment for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine near the hospital on Carter Avenue, and we are also planning to offer the vaccine at many of our family care centers. And if there are any questions, people can call 408-COVD (2683). Anyone who is in our system and has a care provider here, we can help them schedule," Detherage said.
For those who qualify, such as those unable to travel, there is the potential that they can receive the vaccine in their homes through KDMC's Home Health Team. Vaccinations are available for ages 12 years and older.
The Friday vaccine clinic at the King's Daughters Pavilion in Russell continues to offer both the Pfizer (for 12 and up) and Moderna vaccines. Moderna is available in the mornings until 1 p.m. The Pfizer vaccine is available from 2 to 6 p.m., to help accommodate getting kids to the clinic.