By CJ Urquico
The battle to contain Covid continues
On March 15, 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was detected on Guam. Nearly 600 days into the pandemic, there remain people who believe Covid is fiction. The reality is that, like other viruses, Covid-19 is here to stay.
Since the third wave of infections hit the island in August, triple-digit positives have become so routine that we have become desensitized to this grim reality. Guam has the highest number of breakthrough infections at 31 percent.
Another disturbing development is the rise of pediatric cases on the island. And then, there is a three-word acronym that made it into our daily vocabulary-DOA: dead on arrival. The Department of Public Health and Social Services released data on recent Covid deaths, and 30 of them are classified as DOA.
As of the last week of September, Guam had more than 14,000 positive cases, with a death toll running close to 200. With 87 percent vaccination rate, why this high infection rate?
A computer analogy can explain the Covid vaccine. Typically, Windows-based personal computers come preinstalled with antivirus software to help protect data and ultimately allow users to binge-watch undisturbed by annoying malware pop-ups.
Some viruses are a source of irritation; others are catastrophic. For example, data loss, identity theft and chances of infecting everyone in the user's address book. Antivirus programmers get blindsided by new code that they have to catch up to in order to mitigate the damage.
The delta variant is like that. Everyone thought that the end of the pandemic was in sight; then here comes a new code that our current antivirus, a.k.a. vaccine tech, isn't quite ready for yet. They designed the vaccines for the OG (original gangster) alpha variant. The delta variant is Covid 4.0.
Where current vaccines are lacking in halting transmission, they mitigate hospitalization, according to health authorities. Simply put, if someone gets infected, they have a higher chance of recovering.
The intelligent computer user runs antivirus software because it makes perfect sense. The same goes for vaccination; it is insurance that the infected person will not totally crash--for the most part.
On the subject of data, here are the numbers from the CDC as of this writing. You are: five times more likely to get infected if you are not vaccinated; 10 times more likely to get hospitalized if you are not vaccinated; and 10 times more likely to die if you are not vaccinated.
There are ongoing studies on how the virus affects the brain. An article published in the New York Times reports that a small number of Covid patients develop psychotic symptoms.
"There is a discrepancy in the medical literature at this point as to whether or not the SARS-Cov-2 virus can enter the brain itself and invade the neurons,” said Dr. David Weingarten, a neurosurgeon who works at Guam Memorial Hospital.
“There have been studies that showed ‘yes’ and studies that showed ‘no.’ There's a whole lot of 'we're not sure yet.' It is extremely difficult to separate out whether somebody is suffering neurologic symptoms like depression or cognitive difficulties because of prolonged hospitalization or because they have a virus that is affecting their brain," said Weingarten, founder of the Weingarten Institute for Neuroscience.
"That being said, prolonged hospitalization from any cause can certainly lead to anxiety, depression, etc. Unfortunately, we have had suicides in patients who have had prolonged hospitalization with Covid," he added.
Research on mRNA vaccines dates back more than 30 years. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the two leading mRNA vaccines developed to fight Covid-19.
The Covid vaccine using mRNA technology can be compared to a computer program. The code within it is designed to produce a protein inside the cell. The cell realizes that this abnormal protein does not belong and responds by creating antibodies. It does not interact with the cell nucleus and DNA in any way.
Members of the medical community are not immune to having had initial doubts about the vaccine.
"At first, I was afraid to get vaccinated, as were many of my friends, family members and colleagues. But after doing much reading and speaking with colleagues who were vaccinated, I felt it was, and still is, my best defense against the virus," said Dr. Margaret Hattori-Uchima, dean of the University of Guam College of Nursing.
When the vaccination efforts began, Hattori-Uchima led nursing students in the effort to vaccinate the public.
“We have assisted in the H1N1 vaccinations, measles outbreaks, dengue fever prevention outreach, and work with DPHSS and the Homeless Coalition. During times of crisis, UOG has a history of collaborating with DPHSS, and we felt that we should do as much as we can to support Covid-19 response efforts.”
In addition to social distancing, hand washing, mask-wearing and sanitizing, Hattori-Uchima said the vaccination is vital to protect people from getting sick enough to need ICU care or to die from the virus.
Weingarten agreed. "The vaccines are safe and effective, and the scientific data is not ambiguous about this. Therefore, it is to your advantage and to the advantage of everyone around you to get vaccinated,” he said.
While acknowledging that there are some doctors who have bad things to say about vaccines, Weingarten said they are the minority.
“A recent American Medical Association survey showed that 96 percent of doctors are vaccinated. Half of the remaining 4 percent said they planned to get vaccinated,” he said.
"The vaccine holdouts are incredibly frustrating to me. They basically fall into two camps. The first camp are misinformed people who are allowing their political views to dominate over science. They cherry-pick data supporting their political views and find reasons to ignore the wealth of information supporting vaccination.
"The second camp are those who are inundated by misinformation from group No. 1. They are scared, which I understand. The first group is shameful, whereas the second group are victims of the first group," added Weingarten.
Recently, Pfizer BioNTech submitted their application to make the vaccine available to children ages 5-11. " I urge parents to speak with their pediatrician. The pediatricians on Guam are excellent and are keeping abreast of the latest developments,” Hattori-Uchima said.
Hattori-Uchima said the recent Covid -19 surge raises concerns among health care providers. “Clearly, we need to take measures on all fronts to combat this surge. Also, the impact of the overall health status of our population—the high rates of heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, pulmonary diseases— is negatively affected by Covid-19. We all hear about the presence of comorbidities in the majority of Covid-19 deaths.
But what are we, as a community, doing to address the issues of prevention, health care access, promotion of healthy habits? We will lose countless battles in the fight against the pandemic if we don't address health promotion and disease prevention.
"As more studies are conducted, and more information made available, then decisions can be made with the most up-to-date data. The pandemic has taught us to be flexible and to learn as the pandemic progresses. Learn as the science develops," Hattori-Uchima said.