The more people I know, the more I love my dog.  We’ve likely heard some variation of this phrase, and in fact, these very words frame a photo of a beloved canine.  As we move into year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began on December 12, 2019, with a cluster of infections in Wuhan, China, we find ourselves still at odds with one another.  Why?  The reasons are as varied as people themselves.  What has remained steadfastly constant is the intersection of science and society.  To that end, let’s answer some societal questions with scientific responses.

Who should be vaccinated?

According to the CDC, any person who is eligible to get the vaccine should get initial vaccine doses and boosters. That means everyone 5 years old and older should get the first doses and everyone 16 years and older should get a booster after their first doses.  As of December 2nd, 59.6% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, while 70.6% has received at least one dose.  That means we’re averaging an F and a C. Fortunately, these aren’t final grades, so we Americans can boost those scores without bribing the professor with wine and dark chocolate.  That doesn’t mean the professor doesn’t want to find those items in her Christmas stocking, though. To get out of this pandemic, it will take all of us.

Are there any vaccine exceptions? What about vaccine exemptions?

Like many rules, there are exceptions.  If a person has an allergy to a substance in the vaccine, whether it is the mRNA (Moderna and Pfizer) vaccine or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, that person should not get the vaccine.  The two substances in the vaccines that a person may be allergic to are polyethylene glycol (PEG) found in the mRNA vaccine and polysorbate found in the J&J vaccine.  And, that’s as far as I can go here.  People in this situation should talk to their healthcare providers. Vaccine exemptions are personal reasons that free a person from vaccine obligation.  All 50 states and Washington, D.C. allow exemptions from state or local vaccine requirements. Exemptions range from medical and religious reasons to reasons of conscience.  While 1 in 10 Americans states the COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with their religious beliefs, I’m not sure what those beliefs are because no major religion or religious leader has stated opposition to vaccination, including Pope Francis. Actually, faith leaders can play a very positive role in educating and encouraging their congregations.

Should people who have had COVID-19 be vaccinated?

This is an excellent question! And the answer is YES!  One would assume that if you’ve had the disease then a vaccine isn’t necessary because you’d have natural immunity.  That’s partly true: you do have some immunity but vaccination is still recommended.  Here’s what the CDC states about this: “whereas there is a wide range in antibody titer in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), completion of a primary vaccine series, especially with mRNA vaccines, typically leads to a more consistent and higher-titer initial antibody response.”  Additionally, “the body of evidence for infection-induced immunity is more limited than that for vaccine-induced immunity in terms of the quality of evidence and types of studies.” Current research shows that vaccination following COVID-19 infection increases protection against re-infection.  This makes sense because antibody levels will vary depending on the severity of the initial infection. It’s like interest on savings: the more money you have in your account the more interest you’ll earn and the greater the total sum will be.

If vaccinations are so great, why do people have breakthrough infections?  What about reinfections?

A breakthrough infection occurs when a person gets a disease for which they have been vaccinated against. Once again, this speaks to our individual immune systems and immune responses, plus the fact that vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection. The statistics show that most people who do get COVID-19 are unvaccinated and for those who are vaccinated and get a breakthrough infection, the disease is usually much milder. As for reinfections, they can occur, but they are rare. We must remember that scientists are still studying this very active coronavirus, and with time, more will be known.  As an example showing immune response individuality, think about seasonal allergies: some people have them and some don’t depending on one’s personal immune system. Now, don’t go thinking you’ll take your chances with COVID-19…it’s caused by a highly infectious, easily transmittable, deadly virus.  Without protection in the form of vaccines, your own immune response may not be able to handle it, despite your healthy lifestyle.  Some things simply can’t be life-styled away.

Why is there still so much misinformation?

This is a perplexing question.  In the age of instant information, instant disinformation is just as prevalent.  According to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the “Disinformation Dozen”, a group of 12 anti-vaxxers, produces 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.  Facebook and Twitter are cracking down on the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation and disinformation, but it’s an interesting fight because freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment. This is where being scientifically literate would help us all. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all knew enough science that if or when we encountered conspiracy theories we’d click past them and onto puppy pictures? People spewing forth venom and intentional false information thrive on drama.  If you’re looking for drama, turn on Netflix.  If you’re looking for real information, check reputable sources.  And when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccines, you can begin with the CDC’s website.

What About Those Meddling Mandates?

Many claim that the vaccine and mask mandates violate body autonomy, civil liberty, and the right to make your own health care decisions. Check, check, and check…until those rights infringe upon others. The coronavirus is a highly infectious agent that is deadly.  That means, personal actions or inactions have consequences for others.  If you decide not to brush your teeth and you have chronic halitosis, that’s on you; but if you decide to blow that nasty breath in my face, it’s now on me.  And that’s a problem. Vaccines and masks protect all of us – you and me.

Explain Those Virus Variants

Viruses arevery, very good at changing.  They’d get an A+ for their ability to change, that is, evolve.  When a virus changes, it creates a new variant, formerly known as a new strain.  This is what viruses do.  And these new variants/strains usually don’t affect its mode of operation – it’s still a virus, but the virus might behave differently.  It’s kind of like dating or marriage:  With the passage of time, the person changes until the relationship ends (the virus kills the person) or it becomes mutually beneficial (virus finds the variant that allows it to survive and carry on forever). The two latest variants are delta and omicron.  We’re living in real-time science as researchers study the variants and report what is known about them as more data are compiled.  Our current vaccines do offer protection against the variants.  The best way to keep viruses in check is to eliminate them or protect yourself so that they don’t eliminate you.  As a group, viruses are particles that honestly don’t care who or what they inhabit:  they’ll even infect bacteria, which is why viruses have been on this planet longer than humans.  They’ll also be here long after we’re gone, so it’s up to us to determine which ones remain.

All We Need is Love and Puppies

Let’s get back to dogs and puppies.  In the dog world, pack animals take care of each other.  Even outside a pack, a dog will exhibit “splitting behavior”, which means if things are getting out of hand between two dogs or one dog isn’t behaving as it should, another dog will intercede and play the peacekeeper. No violence is involved, the dog will merely stand and stop the bad behavior.  This behavior restores the good of the order.  Gotta love dogs.

What a wonderful world this would be if we took some COVID-free deep breaths, exhibited calm amidst the chaos, and thought about all the reasons to mask up, vaccinate, and care for one another. Now, pull your mask down and experience puppy breath kisses from the newest member of our pack, Greta.

Peace, Love, and Dogs.