Over the last several months the U.S. has collectively made tremendous progress in combating coronavirus, however, stopping the fight prematurely will certainly lead to a re-emerging threat.
We continue to have at our disposal the tools necessary to reduce disease transmission as well as morbidity and mortality from this virus. We also have the choice to participate in the solution.
As the state opens vaccine eligibility to the general population, we all have another opportunity to help move Oklahoma back toward a sense of normalcy.
In pandemics past, such as we saw with polio and smallpox, once a vaccine became available, large swaths of the population ran to get in line. While there was some initial understandable hesitancy for people going out to get vaccinated from COVID-19, the science continues to be abundantly clear that the benefits of receiving the vaccination far outweigh the risks for the overwhelming majority of the population. Fortunately, over the last few months hesitancy seems to be declining and it couldn’t have come at a more important time.
On a genetic level, one of the important considerations we must take into account when fighting viruses is their propensity to mutate into what we call “variant strains.”
Every time this virus infects a host it has the opportunity to create an advantageous mutation which could make the virus spread more efficiently to new hosts.
In addition to being more transmissible, viruses may make subtle alterations in the proteins that our immune systems use to identify them, the same proteins that our immune system has been trained to identify with the vaccination.
When these proteins are no longer similar enough to be recognized by the immune system it can be as if the body was never immunized. When this happens any ground that was gained from vaccination is lost.
That is why we have to continue to take steps to prevent the possible exposure of variant strains even after vaccination by continuing to use a face mask while in public and around others who have not been vaccinated.
We know that these variant strains of COVID-19 are out there and pharmaceutical companies are working towards creating booster vaccinations should these variants become widespread enough to necessitate their use.
The only way to get back to a time without face masks is to wear them now. The longer we wait to act, the longer it will take to get back to normal. We have to work together to dig ourselves out of this mess. Our teamwork is imperative to our survival.
Wayne Greene reads the March 26 Tulsa World editorial: Vaccination success story.
Brandon Quinn, MPH, is a medical student at OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.