Recently, I wrote about how it is reasonable for a person to resume many activities once vaccinated because the risk of severe illness will be low (especially activities with other vaccinated people). This week, I want to emphasize why there is still need for a degree of caution, particularly among unvaccinated individuals. While the rate of COVID-19 is much lower than it was a few months ago, we are still seeing cases in our area. Recently, a number of these have been in older individuals who are most at risk for severe illness. This week at Iowa Specialty we have cared for two patients under age 65 with COVID-19 who required hospitalization. Thus, it is important to remember that even younger individuals can become severely ill from COVID-19. Those between 50 and 64 (many of whom are not yet receiving vaccines) remain at very real risk of severe illness. Roughly 280 of the deaths from COVID-19 in Iowa have been individuals between 50 and 59. Even with the lower rates of COVID-19 recently and the rollout of vaccines, this pandemic remains more dangerous to the average American adult than any infectious disease in our lifetimes.
It is also important to understand that, while it is clear that all available vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness, there are some limitations in the studies that have been done. The most significant limitation is that even in a study that lasts for several months and has 30,000 or more people in it, only a handful or two in either the vaccine group or the placebo group will get severely ill and need hospitalization. For example, in the study of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, no one in the vaccine group was hospitalized once the vaccine had taken effect. However, there were only 5 in the placebo group that were hospitalized. When we are dealing with this small of numbers, the estimates are not terribly precise as just one patient requiring hospitalization in the vaccine group could make a huge difference in how the statistics look.
The point of all this is that we should absolutely feel more comfortable engaging in activities that are important to us once vaccinated, but we still need to be thoughtful about precautions for all the unvaccinated people in our community and because even really, really effective vaccines aren’t going to be 100%. When it isn’t that big of a deal to put on a mask or space out a little more than usual from other tables at a restaurant, we should all keep doing it because the faster we can eliminate cases in the community, the faster we’ll be able to leave COVID-19 behind us with as few people ending up in the hospital as possible.