Checking Up On Health: March 8, 2021

Medical Monday: A weekly post of healthcare- and technology-related policy news, views and commentaries.

When I was young, a primary goal of mothers in my community back in South Africa was to ensure that we girls contracted German measles before we were of child-bearing age. If it got around that a young friend with German measles, we were encouraged to hang out with them so we could “get it out of the way.” And we had to stay away from pregnant women if there was any sign of infection.

Why? According to “A History of Vaccines,” while mild in children, German measles can be passed from a pregnant woman on to a developing fetus, with serious consequences. “Such pregnancies are at risk of spontaneous abortion or premature birth. If the fetus survives, the child may suffer from a wide range of birth defects, including deafness, eye defects, cardiac defects, mental retardation, bone lesions and other abnormalities. Together, the defects are known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). Of children whose mothers are infected during their first trimester of pregnancy, studies suggest that between 50% and 90% will suffer from CRS.”

German measles has nothing to do with measles, of course, and today the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is routine for children in the United States: The first rubella vaccine arrived in 1969; the MMR combo was licensed in 1971. It still is not routine in South Africa; according to one website:

Rubella vaccination is not part of the routine vaccination schedule provided by the state in South Africa. This is because vaccinations for more serious diseases have to take priority when there is a limited budget. If you can afford private medicine, it is advisable for your child to have the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 15 months of age. This is routinely given by many GPs. Another option is for girls to be vaccinated with rubella vaccine alone at around 12 years old. Here the objective is primarily to prevent rubella during pregnancy later on. In South Africa there are numerous babies born with congenital rubella syndrome each year; this is preventable.

Another stupid idea we thought of – as children, ourselves – was infecting ourselves with pink eye (conjunctivitis, which is highly contagious) so we could get out of school for a couple of days. I didn’t do this personally … but it was done.

Friends in the United States, meanwhile, tell me their parents would plan chickenpox parties, which were popular before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995!

All of this comes to mind as the discussion turns to COVID-19. Young adults, feeling invulnerable – or less vulnerable to the novel coronavirus – are considering coronavirus parties to deliberately infect themselves and get it over with. The practice has its own Wikipedia entry.

Little is known about the long-term effects of COVID-19, which led to Gov. Brian Kemp announcing restrictions this week a year ago. I wrote a while back about the post-COVID complications that affected a young colleague; you can read it here.

While younger adults have far less serious infections, research continues into post-infection ailments and how long they can linger. One year later, we can still only say that time will tell. The same with the vaccination. It’s promising experiment, but it is authorized for emergency use.  As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, “For each COVID-19 vaccine authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that vaccine recipients or their caregivers are provided with certain vaccine-specific EUA information to help make an informed decision about vaccination.”

As the form notes: “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is a vaccine and may prevent you from getting COVID-19. There is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.” And Reuters points out  the United States “has a law to exclude tort claims from products that help control a public-health crises in the form of the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness, or PREP Act.”

A new phenomenon, according to Kaiser Health News, is to include your COVID status on your dating profile. And the articles curious author asked a physician if sharing your vaccine/infection status would be beneficial.  The physician cautioned: “It’s not a free pass … We don’t know whether ‘if’ somebody is vaccinated means they will no longer be a carrier of coronavirus. They may still be able to infect you even if they are safe from coronavirus themselves.”

Fickle CDC: One need look only at the CDC recommendations over time to realize what uncertainty exists about COVID-19. The same article mentioned above and published today shares that the CDC recommends “those who are vaccinated continue to wear masks and maintain physical distance as the vaccine rollout proceeds.” But the CDC changed its guidance today, announcing that fully vaccinated people can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart.
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart if everyone in the other household is at low risk for severe disease.
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 after contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Officials say a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of COVID-19 vaccine. About 30 million Americans, or 9% of the population, have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

No break for spring break? The CDC has also issued guidelines on spring break travel: “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time. Delay travel and stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Visit CDC’s Travel During COVID-19 for more information and steps to take if you must travel.”

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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