This is a rapidly changing topic. The information presented here represents the best information available at the time of writing. The views expressed herein are my own. I am not representing Vanderbilt University Medical Center in this forum. Finally, this article is not meant to provide healthcare advice. If you have any questions pertaining to your own health, including concerns about whether you are infected with COVID-19 or should receive vaccination, please consult your healthcare provider.
In the war against COVID-19, we are in a race between vaccination and the more transmissible and, in some cases more deadly, SARS-CoV-2 virus variants. Europe is seeing a third wave of COVID-19 infection and death. In the past, an increase in cases in Europe has preceded an increase in cases in the US by about one month. We are seeing some hot spots in the US, particularly in Michigan and New Jersey. In the Nashville, TN area, where I live, the transmission rate is 1.06, meaning that each person with the virus is transmitting it to more than one person.
In the US, we are now seeing about 55,000 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 per day. The 7-day moving average number of cases is down 77.2% compared to the peak on January 11, 2021. However, over the past 7 days, the number of infections has increased by 6.7%. We are still seeing about 1000 deaths per day from COVID-19, a continuing national tragedy.
However, there is good news. Mortality from COVID-19 among those 65 years of age and older, the population with the highest proportion of vaccinated individuals, has decreased from 16 per 100,000 in January to 1 per 100,000, confirming the effectiveness of the vaccines. Currently, about 14% of the US population is vaccinated. Approximately 2.5 million people are being vaccinated in the US every day.
As a healthcare worker, I was among the first to get the vaccine. I well recall the euphoria that my colleagues and I had, despite some more than mild flu-like symptoms following my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. It was all well worth it to see this virus defeated. We looked forward to declining hospitalization and death rates and a relief from the pressure on an overburdened healthcare system.
Many of my fellow Aikidoka are vaccinated. Like you, I want to go back to my normal life NOW. I want to get back on the mat, at least with my vaccinated friends. But the virus is sort of like that poor little fellow in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it’s not dead yet. If you have been vaccinated, you are among the fortunate few. Most Americans don’t qualify for vaccination, although that issue should be resolved over the coming weeks. Even among those who currently qualify, many do not have access to vaccination and others do not want it. For example, in some of the more conservative counties in Idaho, the vaccination rate among seniors is less than 40%.
Ok, so why should I care? If I am vaccinated, then I should be able to do what I want without a mask with other vaccinated people, right? The problem is that we still don’t know if vaccination fully prevents mild illness or asymptomatic carriage of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If you are vaccinated, you may not get severely ill or die, but you might transmit the virus to someone else. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that individuals who are fully vaccinated, that is people who are two weeks or more from the completion of their vaccination series, may “visit (emphasis mine) with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.” Because the risk of transmission is higher in certain settings, the CDC continues to recommend that during public social activities, specifically including going to the gym (even less contact than Aikido), fully vaccinated individuals should continue to follow all the usual guidelines, including wearing a mask, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance, avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, and frequent handwashing. In thinking about re-opening your own dojo, you should, of course, also follow any applicable state and local guidelines.
On a personal note, the way I have thought about my behavior in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic has been less about my personal freedoms and more about how I perceive my responsibility to society. If there is a significant possibility that I could unwittingly transmit COVID-19 to someone else, who could transmit it to someone else, who might get seriously ill or die, then I don’t want to take that chance. Vaccine availability will roll out to everyone over the next couple of months. In my opinion, once everyone who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated, my moral obligation is fulfilled, and I will joyously meet you back on the mat.
In the words of O’Sensei, “Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and bad people. Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training in the Art of Peace.”
May you be safe and well,
CDC website (www.cdc.gov), accessed March 28, 2021
- COVID data tracker weekly review, updated March 26, 2021 (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html)
- Interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people, updated March 8, 2021 (dc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html)
Nathaniel Lash, Opinion: Will we struggle to reach herd immunity? The New York Times, March 26, 2021 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/03/26/opinion/vaccine-hesitancy-deserts-oases.html).
Rochelle Walensky, MD, CDC Director, Today Show, March 25, 2021