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Editorial: Shots in arms — and continued public health precautions — are our best defense against COVID-19

Editorial: Shots in arms — and continued public health precautions — are our best defense against COVID-19

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Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

On Wednesday, a pharmacist held a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Hartford, Conn.

For nearly a year, public health officials have pored over different kinds of data to assess community spread of COVID-19 and help keep Virginians safe.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) data dashboards regularly capture reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The testing panel captures the total number of tests, while also breaking them down by type: “PCR only” tests seek to spot the virus’ “genetic material,” “antigen only” tests look for a “specific protein” on the virus’ surface and “antibody only” tests aim to determine if a patient had a past infection.

But no matter how much quantitative attention to detail shows through on these dashboards, there are inevitable quality issues. VDH defines a case as an infection that has been “confirmed by a laboratory test.” What about Virginians who were asymptomatic and never knew, or had mild symptoms and recovered at home without a test?

VDH also notes that antigen tests “are not always as accurate” as PCR ones. And antibody tests face timing challenges. They might miss a current case because antibodies can take one to three weeks after infection to show up. And even if you have COVID-19 antibodies, there’s no way to tell how much protection they offer, or how long that defense might last.

That’s why masks, social distancing and vaccines matter so much. Shots in arms — and continued public health precautions — are our best defense against COVID-19.

A Wednesday Times-Dispatch news report captured how much measurable progress Virginia has made with its vaccination efforts. The commonwealth now has administered more than 2 million shots since vaccines first became available in December. Roughly 1 in 6 Virginians now have obtained at least one dose and nearly 700,000 people fully are vaccinated, the report added.

For Virginians who have received their first Pfizer or Moderna inoculations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stressed the importance of staying on schedule. Getting the second dose is “critical in ensuring the highest possible levels of immunity,” The Times-Dispatch report said. The ideal time interval between doses is three weeks for Pfizer and four weeks for Moderna, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guides. It sounds easy on paper, but to every person in the commonwealth working tirelessly to protect our most vulnerable neighbors and save lives with these vaccinations, we express our deepest gratitude.

We also recognize the continued work of the companies and elected leaders behind fresh solutions that move us closer to ending this pandemic. On Tuesday, the Biden administration set expectations that every American adult who wants a vaccine will have access to one by the end of May. That development came to fruition roughly 72 hours after the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson option.

What made the timeline improve so quickly? Collaboration between competitors: Merck is contributing two of its facilities to help Johnson & Johnson ramp up production. Just under 70,000 vials of the single-dose vaccine were slated to arrive in Virginia this week.

“Extraordinary times take extraordinary efforts,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said in a Tuesday interview with CNBC.

You’d think that message would be heeded everywhere. Yet despite everything we have learned over this past year, our country still is living in two different worlds.

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced they were lifting their states’ mask mandates and allowing businesses to operate at 100% capacity.

“COVID-19 has not suddenly disappeared, but state mandates are no longer needed.” Abbott said, according to NBC News.

The decisions by Reeves and Abbott contradict comments from the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who has urged states to maintain restrictions amid new variants and vaccinations.

“Please hear me clearly,” Walensky said on Monday, per The Times-Dispatch. “At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

We support Virginians living their lives, but not without: a) recognition of how serious this virus is; and b) compliance with the measures that have kept and, until more people are vaccinated, will continue to keep us safe. We stand with leaders like Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who lift facts over thoughts.

“We need to focus not on what the governor tells you the law allows, but what doctors and the facts and the science that we all know well at this point tell us is necessary to keep us safe and give us our best chance of reaching herd immunity as quickly as possible,” Jenkins said, per a Texas Tribune report.

In Virginia, we will continue to live on the planet where masks save lives, where social distancing helps reduce the spread of this virus and where lifesaving vaccines — not flimsy ideological maneuvers — move us closer toward herd immunity and reclaiming our full freedoms. That’s our best defense against COVID-19.

— Chris Gentilviso

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