Science Says Sunday – Addressing 4 COVID-19 Rumors

The great thing about social media is that it allows someone like me to hear about all the rumors that are circulating in communities, but also questions that people have about COVID-19. The latest questions and rumors centered around things having to do with getting the vaccine, but also the new strains that we are all hearing about.

A year ago Tuesday, I wrote my first post about COVID-19. At the time, we were just learning about the new virus that seemed to be causing pneumonia with no other distinguishable cause. A new virus, it seemed, was to blame. SARS-COV-2 took hold of entire populations, crippling and shaking us to our very core. For about a year now, many have spent countless hours learning about the virus, the disease it causes, but also the deep, long-lasting impact it has had on families and communities at large.

Today we are faced with variations of that original virus. Two in particular have dominated the headlines recently, though there are suspicions and early evidence suggesting others may also be in circulation. The two we have heard about the most are the ones that were originally identified in South Africa and the UK. There is a third that has been identified in Brazil, which appears to be more like the variant identified in South Africa.

All three images obtained from Dr. Eric Topol’s Twitter post:

Regardless of increased transmissibility or not, the experts agree: Masking, handwashing, distancing, avoiding indoor spaces, and vaccination are all musts.

People have a lot of questions about the vaccines because they are front and center, and in some cases, still unavailable. For those who live in states where the vaccine is both available and you are eligible, here’s a nice thread that answers a number of questions including whether the vaccine will work in 65+, and whether or not there will be enough doses for a second shot (fingers crossed this is a definite yes!!):

My parents were lucky enough to secure vaccinations today in Los Angeles county and I’m so grateful they were able to! For those lucky enough to get a vaccine appointment, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Plan for a long wait (my parents got to the site early and had to wait about 30 min, then another 30 min to get vaccinated, then another 15 min wait)
  • Eat beforehand and/or have snacks/water with you
  • Plan to use the bathroom beforehand. Consider wearing Depends if that is a suitable alternative depending on age of individual getting vaccinated
  • Have a full tank of gas, especially if waiting in long lines at drive-up sites
  • Take drivers license or other form of identification
  • Have email or other confirmation available to show at the vaccination site
  • Bring inhaler and/or other medicines you take in case the wait is extremely long
  • Wear layers or pack a blanket in case it’s cold where you are waiting

Remember, a lot is happening in the coming weeks and months and the science is evolving quickly. Pay attention to major news outlets, your local department of public health, and/or sources you trust on and off social media. If you want to read the new administration’s strategy for addressing COVID-19 in the coming months, read this: National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.

This week, I began adding some information in Spanish on Instagram, and this week’s post also has a shareable graphic in Spanish for those interested.

Share, inform, educate as you’re able. Remember, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also fighting a viral infodemic. It will take all of us to beat both. We know that vaccines alone will not end this pandemic, so we have to continue to be patient and do all the things mentioned above to get through this:

Why Vaccines Alone Will Not End the Pandemic:

Be safe and be well!

Science Says Sunday – COVID-19 Vaccine Must-Knows: Before, During, After

Many states have launched their vaccination programs, which is both exciting and confusing. Who, where, when, how, many people are asking. There is confusion about the timing, who is eligible, where to sign up. In some cases, overwhelmed phone hotlines or websites. So, in an effort to inform and dispel myths, this week’s post is dedicating to bringing together some of the information I have read about or heard about so far.

Who: Many states have created tiers or phases to determine who gets vaccinated when. Most plans were created following the CDC ACIP Recommendations for COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization. For example, in Alabama, we are currently in Phase 1a, which includes ‘Healthcare workforce and long-term care patients and workers’. Additional phases include:

Phase 1b – Essential workers at highest risk for work related exposure and persons in identified age groups at risk for COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality

Phase 1c – Persons in identified age groups at risk for COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality not included in Phase 1b; persons with high risk medical conditions; essential workers not recommended for vaccination in Phase 1b

Phase 2 – All persons in age groups not previously recommended for vaccine (ages 16‐64) and general population not included in earlier phases

Other states may be calling their prioritization schedule something different, using ‘tiers’ instead of ‘phases’ for example.

Where/When: Regardless, it’s important to listen to the news, read the news paper, check social media (trusted sources only), call your health department or check their website, etc., to get accurate information about the timing and eligibility for each person. All states reported their prioritization plan in advance and can be found here if you’re interested.

How: Many people want to know what they need to do before getting their vaccine. In general, I recommend learning as much as you can about the COVID-19 vaccine. If you still have questions about what it does or does not do, check out my #sciencesayssunday posts on Instagram or previous blog post on the topic here. Jatati Sharma also put together a nice Instagram post about things she has heard from people about the COVID-19 vaccines:

What: What exactly happens once you get the vaccine? What should you expect? It has not been uncommon to hear that some people have injection site soreness. In some cases, redness around the injection site. In other cases, some fever, tiredness and aches. All of these are expected and are no cause for alarm. The CDC does recommend that if any of these symptoms last for more than a day, or you experience other symptoms that are worrisome to you, you should definitely reach out to a doctor to get additional guidance about what to do next. So far, the data suggest that serious side effects are very rare. In the case of extreme anaphylaxis, approximately 3780 out of 1.89 million people have had severe allergic reactions after the vaccine.

Last note: There has been A LOT of talk about 1 dose vs doses. Until we have more information about this, CDC and Fauci, for example, continue to operate under the plan of a two-dose vaccination. If anything changes, I’ll be sure to let you know. So, if you’re offered a second dose, take it. There’s also been a lot of talk about whether or not you need to mask after your second dose. Y’all. Please don’t listen to Rand Paul. Right now we don’t know how much infection or transmission will be reduced with either vaccine, or whether we will need an annual shot, etc. SO, for now, continue to mask, watch your distance, etc, with the comfort of knowing that if you are vaccinated, you are less likely to develop severe covid.

Two great articles were published this week on the topic of vaccines and what happens now. One from Vox,

and the other written by Dr. Paul Sax in the New England Journal of Medicine. This FAQ does state that “pre-vaccine administration of these drugs [analgesics and antipyretics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen]” is not recommended “as they could theoretically blunt vaccine-induced antibody responses”, however it is unclear where this guidance originates. Stay tuned for more on this. IF you did take a pain reliever prior to your COVID-19 vaccine, don’t panic. A few epidemiologists are looking more into this and will report back as soon as we know more! Dr. Sax pointed us to this language from the CDC (great info on this page, btw): “However, routine prophylactic administration of these medications for the purpose of preventing post-vaccination symptoms is not currently recommended, as information on the impact of such use on mRNA COVID-19 vaccine-induced antibody responses is not available at this time.” I know this is confusing. My gut tells me that, until I can share more concrete information with you, perhaps withhold from taking Tylenol or Advil prior to vaccination, but again, don’t panic if you already did prior to getting your COVID-19 vaccine.

Both are essential reading as we move into the next phases of this COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

For now, hang in there. Continue to mask, wash your hands, watch your distance, and avoid indoor/poorly ventilated space.

Science Says Sunday – New Year, New Virus? Not exactly.

2020 simply won’t stop y’all. Or should I say, 2016? I digress. But, really, where do we go from here? I don’t know. I do know one thing: This does not help in anyway the situation we have happening in the US with COVID-19. In fact, 2021 has new virus variations (note I didn’t say new virus) in town and they are not nice.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about two variations of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus that are circulating in some countries (eg UK and South Africa), one which has now been identified in some states in the US. Both strains are associated with severe waves of cases in the UK and South Africa, making many worry about the implications of spread of those strains here in the US. The one we’ve identified in other countries and the US is called the VOC-202012/01 variant or B117. The variant first observed in South Africa is called the 501.V2 or B1351.

According to the CDC, there are a few things we know and do not know about these new variants.

What we do not know

Scientists are working to learn more about these variants, and more studies are needed to understand:

  • How widely these new variants have spread
  • How the new variants differ
  • How the disease caused by these new variants differs from the disease caused by other variants that are currently circulating

What it means

Public health officials are studying these variants quickly to learn more to control their spread. They want to understand whether the variants:

  • Spread more easily from person to person
  • Cause milder or more severe disease in people
  • Are detected by currently available viral tests
  • Respond to medicines currently being used to treat people for COVID-19
  • Change the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. There is no evidence that this is occurring, and most experts believe this is unlikely to occur because of the nature of the immune response to the virus.

Early research suggests the variants are 30-50% more transmissible, and currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. Still, more transmissible does mean that in the absence of stay-at-home orders and/or increased mitigation strategies, these variants may continue to overwhelm our health systems. Early data also suggest the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine should also work to protect against the B117. Given the similarity between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, one would surmise the same to be true of the Moderna vaccine, however, I haven’t yet seen that data. Will be sure to share when I do!

So, while we wait for additional information about these two variants: Stay home, wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, and disinfect high-touch surfaces. Be safe, friends.


Genetic Variants of SARS-CoV-2—What Do They Mean?

Investigation of novel SARS-CoV-2 variant. Variant of Concern 202012/01. Technical briefing 3

New COVID-19 Variants

The 2nd Covid-19 wave in South Africa:Transmissibility & a 501.V2 variant

Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants

Neutralization of N501Y mutant SARS-CoV-2 by BNT162b2 vaccine-elicited sera