Mahalo for helping Honolulu Star Advertiser. Have fun with this free story!
Just when we thought we would be safe if we were vaccinated, mutations began to indicate something else.
Delta is much more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. It also leads to more severe symptoms and a higher risk of hospitalization and death in the unvaccinated.
Breakthrough infections are becoming more common among those who are vaccinated, and while the risk of developing serious illness is small, breakthrough disease may make them as contagious as those who have not been vaccinated.
As hard as they try, political spin doctors cannot deny that today we are in the midst of an unvaccinated pandemic. Cases in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, southern Mississippi and Alabama are raging as hospital capacities again reach their limits. Hawaii also broke its own record for new cases more than once in the past week, mainly due to the large number of visitors. Hawaii has a fairly high vaccination rate, but apparently not enough to contain the tide with so many visitors to the city.
SOME COUNTRIES, like Australia, have resorted to bans again. In countries like France and some US states, including California and New York, but also in the Pentagon and the federal government, the focus has shifted to vaccine mandates. Aside from a vaccine mandate, frequent testing is becoming more common to appeal to those who continue to oppose the vaccine.
Delta, which originated in India, is currently the dominant variety in the US. It is now seen in 94% of new cases. Another mutation of Alpha was first observed in England in December. At the moment, the quality vaccines are still keeping the vaccinated relatively safe. That could change. It is quite possible that another mutation will develop in which vaccinations are only minimally effective.
Lambda, first found in Peru, is a possible candidate. But whether it’s Lambda tomorrow or Phi next month or Omega next year, the risk of a new mutation that bypasses today’s vaccines remains a significant risk as long as the global vaccination rate is below the calculated herd immunity of 60 to 90%. Africa is still only 3%. The more people who stay unvaccinated, the more the virus can spread, increasing the statistical likelihood that a new, more dangerous mutation will appear.
Delta has also made the economic recovery from COVID-19 difficult. After two rescue packages, inflation quickly exceeded expectations. Now a trillion-dollar infrastructure package is about to pass the Senate.
A few weeks ago, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sparked the specter of rising interest rates. More recently, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell has cautiously suggested that quantitative easing may be easing. This creates the possibility that the uneven and still incomplete recovery for another hit from the delta is at risk.
Hitting the brakes too early could be disastrous. Given the recent huge increases in national debt and more planned, a country that is not growing robustly and tolerating brisk inflation may have a hard time servicing that debt.
Moratoria for those unable to pay their rent or mortgage are almost over, rescue grants and unemployment insurance supplements are running out. However, unemployment is still well above pre-COVID-19 levels while employers are unable to fill positions.
The combination of challenges in the supply chain, combined with inflationary pressures on commodities, frantic demand in construction, and select areas of consumer and cyclical goods, makes for a bumpy and inconsistent economy.
Implementing appropriate health and economic policies is far more difficult as the delta expands and the risk of even worse mutations becomes apparent. For regions that do not have access to vaccinations or that existing vaccinations prove to be insufficient for our protection, lockdowns can still be a last resort. But as long as effective vaccinations are available, lockdowns likely aren’t the way to go. Vaccinations are much more useful.
Ira Zunin, a practicing physician, is the medical director of the Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center. Please send your questions to [email protected]