Delta Dawn: Fighting COVID with Facebook

I haven’t written in a while, mostly because COVID news has been slower lately and to some degree trending in a good direction. We have now vaccinated 173 million Americans, with 144 million (44% of the population) being “fully vaccinated” - 2 weeks after their last shot and protected. That’s an amazing achievement and a huge win in the fight against this virus. The vaccines are turning out to be incredibly safe and effective in real world data, not just in trials. New York City is at 0.4% positivity, and has been below 1% for a month. Mask mandates are dropping, in-person events are resuming and people are feeling hopeful for the first time in quite a while.

However - and this is VERY important - COVID isn’t “over”. It certainly isn't over in many countries around the world, but even in the US, there are large areas where vaccination rates are low, and this is a big potential problem. Whether because of general vaccine hesitancy, poor communication by health care providers, conspiracy theorists or political actors linking the shots to partisan identification, unvaccinated people are EXACTLY what the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs to survive and thrive.

One of the central messages about COVID has been that even if you personally are unlikely to get seriously ill or die from the virus, it’s still important to fight it to protect other people who are at greater risk. Masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and now vaccination have all been encouraged this way. Since many people don’t feel personally vulnerable to the virus, it’s hard to get them to take it seriously, especially if they haven’t seen a friend or relative get sick.

Which brings us to the latest “variant of concern”, the Delta variant, the one that Dr. Ashish Jha (among others) is concerned about. Also known as B.1.617.2, it is worrisome because it seems to be much more transmissible than other strains, with about double the risk of hospitalization for unvaccinated people. It currently accounts for 6% of new US cases, but 90% in the UK.

The good news is that Delta seems to be sensitive to the current vaccines. The bad news is that if you haven't been vaccinated, it’s much easier to catch. And the even worse news is that EVERY person who gets COVID - even if they don’t develop any symptoms at all - is a factory for generating variants. And someday, someone may grow a variant that is NOT controlled by the current vaccines, and we will be back to square one.

We have large parts of the country with low vaccination rates. These regions are a set up for big surges over the coming months, especially since our general precautions are dropping everywhere - with or without vaccination. That will mean more hospitalizations, more deaths and more rolling of the variant dice.

PLEASE don’t let that happen. I realize that many of you (hopefully most of you) are fully vaccinated. I hope that your kids under 12 will be lined up for their shots when they are available (September?). But I’ll also bet that in your circle of friends and family, there are a few people who aren’t. Maybe they won’t ever agree to get vaccinated, but MAYBE, with a little persuasion, and a little explanation from someone they trust (you!), they will join in the fight.

So reach out - on Facebook, by email or just pick up the phone. You can do it. You can save a life. You can prevent variants. You can #stopthespread.

Stay safe!