October 7, 2021
As we head into the fall, it is important to have the best approach to truly recover from this horrible pandemic, which has destroyed our lives for about two years now. The tools are available to build back to a more normal life again. We are so fortunate that we understand this COVID-19 virus and its variants much better now, and there is quite an arsenal of strategies to keep us safe.
How to stay safe: the 2021/2022 version:
- Community rates of the Delta variant
The Delta variant has devastated our communities in recent months. But now, finally, the rates of infection are starting to come down and the unvaccinated are at the greatest risk. The double-pronged approach is to encourage vaccination of those who are unvaccinated (carefully responding to issues of hesitancy and lack of access) and protect the vulnerable, such as myeloma patients, from Delta variant exposure.
Booster shots clearly help vulnerable groups. Myeloma patients can definitely benefit from a booster shot. Right now, the booster is approved for those who received the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. J&J has applied for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) approval for its vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is coming right behind. Interestingly, it does seem that Moderna (which stayed out of the Operation Warp Speed consortium and selected its own higher dose of vaccine) has ended up with the most effective vaccine in terms of sustained antibody response. The booster in this case will most likely be a half dose.
Overall, it is disappointing that so many were tragically infected because of lack of vaccination, but very positive that the value of vaccination in saving lives is now well documented.
The vaccination of children helps not just the children but all of us. This will hopefully proceed at top speed. The highest level of community vaccination is the key target to both stop new spread and the evolution of dangerous new variants. Global vaccination efforts are equally enormously important to protect everyone globally and prevent the development of dangerous new variants.
Masks do work to protect and reduce spread of COVID-19. Masks remain a key tool for myeloma patients to use in all situations where potential exposure is a concern, such as with a larger group of people or in an indoor venue. Avoiding situations where individuals are not wearing masks is essential for all who are vulnerable and at increased risk of infection with, for example, the Delta or potential new variants.
- New tools
Merck recently announced that it has developed an oral agent that attacks COVID-19 and reduces the hospitalization rate by 50%! This can be a game changer for the vulnerable, such as myeloma patients who might—despite receiving a booster shot—still have low COVID-19 antibody levels.
Rapid testing, possibly at-home tests, can also speed early diagnosis and reduce risks of problems related to undetected disease with community spread.
- Sources of optimism
As we reduce our daily focus on getting through the pandemic, we can turn our attention to things that inspire optimism and hope. This week I saw two wonderful examples. In a video called “Hug It Out,” a diver and a gray seal share an affectionate moment in the North Sea. And in this video, a researcher from the Stockholm Resilience Centre tells why eating more “blue foods” – sustainable seafood produced in oceans and rivers – could reduce damage to our planet.
Speaking of seafood, in the Black Swan Research Initiative-supported iStopMM study in Iceland, a healthy, high seafood diet has been shown to protect against the progression of SMM (smoldering multiple myeloma).
Let’s look at the positives as we try to navigate these coming months to return as much as possible to normalcy.
We WILL get through this together.