December 17, 2020
Finally, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines is promising us a return to some normality in 2021. It will be difficult to put the harsh realities of 2020 behind us. So many lives lost, jobs in limbo, food security an issue in our communities. But 2021 offers a real opportunity to come together: for compassion, not competition.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccination
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective and safe. The Moderna vaccine, which an FDA panel of experts unanimously endorsed today, does not require the ultra-cold temperature of the Pfizer product, which is an advantage. The booster dose is given after 28 days, rather than 21 days, and it seems that the tendency to spread COVID-19 infection may be reduced, in addition to the 94.1% reduction in developing active infection.
With demand far outstripping availability, access to the vaccines will be limited until early 2021. Everyone should look for the earliest opportunities to get whatever vaccine is available in their own communities. The vaccines are an enormous scientific achievement and there is absolutely no reason to doubt the clear indications of benefit and safety. There will be other vaccines coming online after undergoing equal scientific review and scrutiny.
In the meantime, it is crucial to continue to stay safe until enough people have been vaccinated to dramatically reduce likelihood of infection in the community. This is the so-called herd immunity that occurs when 70 to 80% of people are protected. That means we must continue wearing masks; social-distancing; gathering in small, known groups only; avoiding indoor, crowded gatherings; being aware of new anti-virus treatments that will become available; and always being alert to the status of COVID-19 in your community.
The New York Times reports that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is creating mask guidelines and standards that are expected to be made public in January. That should help us understand the various levels of protection provided by different types of masks. Flimsy fabric masks probably provide little protection. The best protection is from N95 masks previously in short supply, but now available. Be aware of imported KN95 masks. These are NOT N95 masks and can have a variable level of protection. These new mask guidelines will be very helpful after many months of mixed messaging.
Compassion, not competition
This is the time to help your neighbor whenever possible. A beautiful example of compassionate collaboration can be found in nature. Suzanne Simard, a tree scientist in British Columbia, studies the ways trees exchange water, carbon and nutrients to sustain the growth of trees in a forest. When trees are damaged, nutrients are shuttled over from other trees using an underground network of fungi called mycorrhizas (threadlike fungi that envelop and fuse with tree roots). There are many amazing aspects to the collaboration among trees, but the apparent perception of the need for help is most striking. Although the traditional concept of evolution is “survival of the fittest,” it seems that helping your neighbor is also a message from nature.
Living in a virtual world
Connecting by Zoom has become normal. Telemedicine is a new approach to consultation that is here to stay. But the ability to meet in person is, ultimately, so important and we must aim for that as we re-emerge from lockdowns.
Video conference calls keep us informed, but they are a hollow substitute for having real conversations and sustaining and establishing friendships — to have that true sense of community that we miss so much. Coffee, lunch, dinner with friends and family have become a distant memory. It is essential that we hold on to these memories in anticipation of the music of life resuming by mid-2021.
On the cusp of a positive 2021
As we take a break over the holidays from constant Zooming, it is important to re-energize for a positive 2021. We will finally be getting through this together. Our resilience has been challenged at every turn, but a brighter future will soon be upon us. The new year will undoubtedly bring a changed world, one in which we must work hard to re-establish social norms, get together with our family and friends, and work towards a better planet for everyone.
Wishing you peace, happiness, good health and a joyful holiday!
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.