The hottest topic at the moment is whether one has been vaccinated. Coming in second - Where one got the shot? Texas? Colorado? New Mexico? Rounding out the trio is the name of the manufacturer. Pfizer? Moderna? Johnson & Johnson?
Since it's a pandemic, what you're given is what you get. Between wanting this episode to end, fear of getting or spreading the virus further and limited vaccine alternatives, there is a fair amount of pressure on expediency over anything else.
The options aren't too varied. First, there's getting the virus with its inherent repercussions. In the U.S., chances are one out of 10 for infection, one out of almost 600 for death. In Taos County, it's one out of 20 for infection and, interestingly, the same as the U.S. for death. Recovery rate in the world is around 80 percent depending on the metrics used. There isn't any data on long-term effects due to the relative newness of COVID-19.
Avoiding the virus through mask wearing and social distancing has had some success but is tied to the belief systems of the individual. Curiously, "Republicans consistently underestimate risks, while Democrats consistently overestimate them," according to Jonathan Rothwell of Gallup Polling.
And there is the question of government interference in one's private life depending on your inclinations or history.
Then there is the development and use of vaccines. Polio and small pox have been pretty much eliminated. Measles made a comeback a few years ago. Thankfully, everything from rabies, AIDS, influenza, hepatitis, yellow fever, Zika and Ebola have been minimized through vaccines and treatment. But they haven't been eradicated.
The pharmaceutical industry has outdone itself (with the help of nine billion dollars worth of government funding) by creating several vaccines to fight COVID-19 in record time. Here are the latest world-wide figures: Eight vaccines have been approved for full use, five for early or limited use, 23 are in phase three trials, 35 in phase two and 50 in phase one. That's over 120 vaccines that fall into one of four categories: genetic, viral vector, protein-based, and inactivated or attenuated.
The three vaccines currently being used in the U.S. use bio-synthetic material (mRNA and modified adenovirus) which is used to program your immune system to go after particular strains of COVID-19. This is a new technology in which, for obvious reasons, there are no long term-studies. These vaccines are highly effective and, so far, seem to be working against the new strains of variants. But that could change at any time. Viruses mutate in as quickly as 10 hours.
Finally, the public conversation has avoided talking about the immune system itself; its care, effectiveness and possible alteration through the influence of synthetic material. Again, no long-term studies exist. This may be too big of a discussion in relation to the insistence on expediency in modern medicine. Yet holistic long-term care avoids banishing symptoms through pharmaceutical intervention.
In the U.S., 66 percent of the population is on some kind of medication. And our consumption of those meds is over 60 percent of the global supply while we represent just four percent of the worlds population. The current figure of cost per person in America is around $1200 annually.
Approaching new vaccines with an emergency room mentality makes sense from the perspective of trauma care. Lives are trying to be saved. But perhaps more of a long-term approach might be included.
Let me say it boldly. Are we doing any better in terms of taking care of ourselves in relation to how we are taking care of the planet and the other species around us? Maybe waiting until the pipe breaks isn't the best way to stay dry.
Ultimately, herd immunity is the goal regardless how we get there. Perhaps I have some unrealistic notion that pristine immune systems still exist in our human degraded environment. But hearing repeatedly that these three vaccines are our only option at the moment isn't exactly telling the whole story.
Other vaccines are in trials and about 20 percent of those who test positive for the virus never develop any symptoms at all. Those immune systems must be working fine by themselves. Instead of always fighting something, perhaps a more expansive approach would be helpful for effective self-care, treatment and minimization of future epidemics.
Rick Haltermann lives in El Prado.