The End of the COVID-19 Pandemic

 COVID-19 regulations have "jumped the shark"...

That's a phrase some of you reading this will understand. It comes from the 1970s sitcom Happy Days. In the fifth season, a storyline has Fonzie literally jumping over a shark on water-skis – black leather jacket and all. It is believed that the show veered far from its original, wholesome 1950s plotline at that moment. (But the phrase was coined in 1985 by radio personality Jon Hein.)

I (Thomas Carroll) have found myself using this phrase with every COVID conversation I've had these days. Why? Because the phrase fits perfectly.

Essentially, when something has "jumped the shark," it means the original purpose of the topic has gone too far. It's outlived its purpose or is seeking new attention.

And that's what we're seeing with COVID restrictions...

For example, take the private school in Miami that said any vaccinated student could not come to school for 30 days. Administrators feared the vaccine would get others infected.Really?

On a trip through three national parks last year, my family was required to wear masks while riding in open boats on lakes in the Rockies. What?

Heading to London this past holiday season required several COVID restrictions: before boarding our flight, upon landing, quarantining until test results were back, before boarding our return flight, and again when landing at home.

Any false positive would result in confinement and a new set of testing hoops to jump. All at a cost to the traveler. Even if non-symptomatic. The best part of this – five weeks later – on February 11 – all of these restrictions were lifted en masse. Gone. Nothing to see here.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an anti-vax, no-mask, COVID denier. And I'm certainly not insensitive to people with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions... quite the opposite. My father died of COVID in 2021. He had no underlying conditions nor compromised immune system. But he refused to get vaccinated. He showed symptoms, then died seven days later. So, I have perspective.

I spent the bulk of my career in health care services research and have paid close attention to following the pandemic. Early on, it made perfect sense to step back, restrict contact with people, and see what this virus was going to do, to learn more about it. That made perfect sense.

However, it is time to get back to normal. At least a new form of normal. Things are starting to not make sense anymore. Rules and restrictions have "jumped the shark."

At this point it is time to get rid of all mandates. Don't force kids to wear masks in gym class. And for heaven's sake, use some common sense. Why do I say this? After all, I went to public-health school for my graduate work and lost my Dad to the virus.

Here are the three reasons it's time to get back to normal...

No. 1: We have a widely available, safe vaccine.

The global pharmaceutical effort crushed it... The industry that takes so many hits from politicians and the media did its job with COVID-19 and did it very well.

The vaccine development was one of the best, most successful examples of public-private partnership ever seen. Between Operation Warp Speed and billions of dollars in private investment, a safe and effective vaccine was developed in the blink of an eye.

The U.S. reported its first COVID-19 case in January 2020 only to see exploding cases in the coming months. Sandra Lindsey, an ICU nurse, in New York City received the first U.S. vaccine on December 14, 2020.

In less than a year, the virus was identified, a vaccine developed and tested, and administered to the first patient. Regular people like me began to get vaccinated in March 2021 – a mere 15 months after the first cases were reported. The next-fastest vaccine to be developed – for the mumps in the 1960s – took four years.

It is also one of the safest vaccines ever developed. The "new" technology creating it – using mRNA techniques – is not that new. It's been in the works for decades. More recent work has been done by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. They are following the vaccine closely.

Dr. John Wherry, an immunologist at Perelman said the following about the vaccine: "What's clear is that these vaccines are amazing. In terms of the immunological response they induce, they're among the best vaccines we've studied."

While there were some rare reports of blood clotting and a slightly increased risk of the neurological condition Guillain-Barré ("GB") syndrome, overall, the vaccine is projected to be extremely safe. As of now, it is expected that researchers will not find anything really bad happening to more than 1 in 500,000 people... There is no reason to fear this vaccine.

The vaccine is now widely available in developed countries like the U.S. and throughout Europe. It is also getting to poorer countries as well. Novavax – a program of the World Health Organization that buys vaccines from rich countries – shipped 111 million doses last October. In November and December, Novavax was expected to have another 900 million in the pipeline. Vaccines are getting out there globally. If you really want one, you can likely find it no matter where you live on the planet.

No. 2: Hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated.

More vaccinations means less disease. It also means less severity if reinfected.

As of February 13, 2022, 214 million people in the U.S. have been full vaccinated with two doses. That is about 64% of the U.S. population. Another 92 million have received a booster shot.

Worldwide, 10.4 billion doses have been given. This equates to almost 62% of the Earth's population. And almost 28 million doses are now being given daily.

But forget vaccinations... The human body's own immune system creates the best vaccination in the world. Once infected and recovered, the immune system remembers COVID and can fight future infections. Researchers at Johns Hopkins believe three out of four people will have been exposed once the Omicron surge is done.

Our own Doc Eifrig has been saying this since the start of the pandemic. And he is spot on.

Almost 78 million people in the U.S. are confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 as of February 13, 2022. The real count is likely much higher. That means a lot of natural immunity has been established.

The news gets better. People that had COVID and then got vaccinated or had a breakthrough case after vaccination have what scientists are calling Hybrid Immunity – also known as super immunity. Their bodies rapidly create protections effective against known variants as well as showing protection for new variants.

Between vaccination and regular infection, we are rapidly achieving herd immunity. The Mayo Clinic cites 94% infection or vaccination for herd immunity to exist. Other sources suggest 70%. Given the numbers from above and our Omicron discussion below, we are well on our way. Perhaps we are there already?

The vaccine is safe, effective, and readily available. If you do not want yourself or your family vaccinated for whatever reason – that is your right. But if you get sick, that is on you, and no one else.

No. 3: Omicron has added to our immune system's arsenal.

Do viruses become less deadly as they mutate over time?

No. This is not true despite what you might have read on the Internet.

A quick Google search will suffice to answer the question. Examples include the Bird Flu and norovirus mutating to more virulent versions of themselves. The 2014 to 2016 Ebola outbreak in Africa killed 90% of those infected despite the virus' first discovery in 1976.  And a quick call to my infectious-disease-expert friend Dr. Robert Bollinger, at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, also confirmed this.

Omicron, the latest COVID variant responsible for 95% of current confirmed infections, will help stop the pandemic from ruining our way of life.

Why? It is less severe and more contagious.

Researchers found its death rate to be lower than Delta and the original variant. In South Africa where Omicron was first discovered, adults were 29% less likely to be hospitalized than previous variants. And during recent earnings announcements from U.S. health insurers, medical-claims data analysis suggested lower severity of illness. This information is literally where the rubber meets the road.

Omicron created more infections than either of the two primary variants tracked by researchers around the globe. My thought is that many more people than confirmed cases have been exposed to the Omicron variant. If so, then even more people than the "official counts" have super immunity.

Moving On From the "Pandemic"

After more than two years since the first case was found in China, we've moved from pandemic to endemic. Endemic means the illness will continue to circulate throughout the world. But it will not create havoc. Those at risk or infected will take care of themselves. We will live with it. This is where we are with the flu, common cold, and many other coronaviruses currently circulating.

Many will still wear masks in confined places like airplanes and take other precautions. If you've been to or through China in the years before the pandemic, you likely saw people wearing masks. Similar coronaviruses have been circulating in Asia for decades and even much longer. The rest of the world is now catching up with new behaviors.

But thankfully – and hopefully because of what I'm describing here – idiotic restrictions are beginning to be lifted. Here in the U.S., New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon, and California all have plans to remove indoor mask mandates in February and March.

Additionally, there will likely be lasting benefits of our new behaviors. For example, the pandemic has improved personal hygiene for many. Things like handwashing and wiping down desks should limit the spread of everyday colds, viruses, and the flu. I wrote about this in American Consequences in August 2021. You can read that here.

I think we are getting close to getting back to normal (or some form of a new normal). That means that the summer of 2022 is likely going to be fantastic no matter where you live, and the time to put the pandemic way of life behind us.

Best regards,

Thomas Carroll
February 24, 2022