Hello Favorite Humans!  It’s been awhile since we last communicated because I was convinced that humankind surely would have this pandemic under control once those vaccines started rolling out and sleeves started rolling up.  Alas, we seem to have a few hiccups.  I know this because my inbox is starting to fill with questions again.  That’s okay, a little summer school may just be what we all need.  Put down that lemonade or margarita and put on your thinking cap.  Summer school is in session.  Let’s do a little Q&A.  No need to worry about being called on though; the smart kid in the front row who brings his professor Special Dark chocolate has already googled the answers while my colleague and I have checked them for accuracy.  Let’s begin.

Q: What is the Delta Variant?

A: Known officially as SARS-CoV-2 Delta (B.1.617.2 Delta to be exact), it is a mutation of our common enemy, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.  The variant was first identified in India in December 2020.  From there, it spread to Great Britain.  When a virus mutates, it is named a variant. In addition to Delta, the CDC is monitoring multiple variants, including alpha, beta, and gamma.  Currently, the delta variant is the dominant strain in the United States.  What is particularly disturbing about the delta variant is the ease with which it spreads, affecting more people and straining more of our already strained healthcare workers.  COVID-19 has already killed 613,000 people in the United States and about 4,194,208 people worldwide. Countless others have been sickened by the virus.  To officially end this pandemic, the entire WORLD must be vaccinated.

Q: Why won’t people get vaccinated?

A: Some countries simply don’t have vaccines available to vaccinate their citizens.  The United States is not one of these countries.  The reasons for vaccine hesitancy are varied, and I’ve written on vaccine hesitancy in the past.  But a reason that keeps popping up centers on the phrase, “emergency use authorization.”  I don’t know what talking head made this phrase the one to latch onto to become the new culture war bomb, but please be a good student and understand what it means before repeating the phrase and citing it as an excuse.

Q: What is emergency use authorization (EUA)?

A:  In the United States, we have guidelines and protocols for vaccine development.  Stop and ask yourself what you know about such guidelines.  Have you ever (and be honest) in your life understood how other vaccines were developed?  If so, can you list them and defend your answer?  Vaccine guidelines and protocols are in place to protect citizens.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccines because specific criteria such as efficacy and safety have already been met and there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.  Rigorous clinical trials have already been conducted and experts have evaluated the data and rendered the vaccines the best thing we have right now to stop the pandemic.

Q: If the vaccines are safe and effective, why aren’t they fully approved?

A: Clinical trials are still being conducted and more data being gathered to provide everything necessary for drug manufacturers to submit the paperwork for full approval.  All the boxes have to be checked.  As you’ve seen, clinical trials on children were and still are being conducted.  Originally, some vaccines were only available to adults.  Then, as more information became available, the age limit was lowered.  Now, more trials are being conducted to know if and when all children can be vaccinated.  As more information becomes available, more science is conducted, and after the paperwork gets submitted, then the FDA will review again and the authorization rating may change.  If we want to make America great, keep America great, or better yet, keep Americans alive, vaccination can do that.  Currently, 50.2% of people in the United States are fully vaccinated. Compare that percentage to our Canadian neighbors to the north where 59.7% of people are fully vaccinated.  A mere 20.2% of our Mexican neighbors are fully vaccinated.

Q: Why are mask mandates coming back?

A: Mask mandates are coming back because not enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.  Herd immunity is the critical number of vaccinated people a population needs for the virus to die out.  If the virus doesn’t have a host, it dies.  Coronavirus likes warm blooded humans.  These humans don’t even have to be gracious hosts.  Without a host, it dies.  End of story.  Why people become outraged about wearing masks is a mystery to me.  I’ve asked my Scooby-Doo stand-in, Gabbi, if she could help solve it.  She couldn’t.  But liken the ever-changing mask-wearing suggestions and mandates to the weather.  The environment changes, so you dress and prepare appropriately.  To go outside without a coat in subzero temperatures just isn’t smart, so you wouldn’t do it.  You’d also gladly accept a face mask if it prevented frost bite. We have lots of children in this great country of ours who are getting sick from the virus because they cannot be vaccinated.  Two ways to halt the spread of the virus are to get vaccinated and wear a mask.  We all care for children, right?

Q: What are breakthrough infections?

A:  This actually is an excellent question.  I’m not a fan of this term, but nobody asked me to give a name to the situation that occurs when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for the virus.  I guess “fully vaccinated infected person, or F-VIP” doesn’t really capture the essence.  These so-called breakthrough infections do occur.  So, yes, a person can get sick, but they don’t get too terribly sick, require hospitalization, or die.  They can also test positive and have no symptoms at all.  Both are proof that the vaccines are working.  Remember that our immune responses are as individualized as we are.

Q: How contagious is the Delta variant?  Can vaccinated people spread the virus?

A:  The CDC reports that the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox. Remember that viruses mutate – think of that as changing to a situation in order to survive.  If wearing a mask enabled a virus to survive, it would. Instead, it mutates. Compared to the original coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the Delta variant is better able to enter cells and dampen our immune responses, thereby increasing viral load. Reports show that even fully vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections with the Delta variant carry as much virus in the nose and throat as people who are not vaccinated.  This also means that vaccinated people who have a breakthrough infection can readily spread the virus to others.

Q: Isn’t it my birthright as an American to refuse vaccination or mask wearing in this land of the free and home of the brave?

A: For those with this belief, the best we can do is offer up a consideration to change one’s heart in the hope that it will change one’s mind.  Where does personal liberty end and public health begin? Is it okay to ask a healthcare worker to take care of you when you refused to take care of yourself? Is it okay to infect another person because you chose self over others? Living in a society requires us to care for one another, including the youngest and least among us.  It sure would be nice if we all worked together for the common good and created a little COVID-free peace on Earth.