Imagine going back in time to the Black Death in 1346 through 1353. Over 25 million deaths—almost one third of the Europe’s entire population—gone. While the human toll of that historical disease remains difficult to comprehend, in December 2019 a new plague, known as Covid-19, reached the United States and continued to spread across the world. Beginning in March 2020, the coronavirus shut down life as we knew it, leading many to wonder if and how it would ever end.
“In all my years of living I have never been through a disease of this magnitude,” said Stephen Grens Sr., 78, of Easton. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime, but the fear that people have had from this virus is unlike anything I have seen.”
Thanks to nearly 700 years of scientific progress since the 14th-century Plague, researchers and pharmaceutical companies were able to produce vaccines in record time to combat the Covid-19 virus. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved under an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2020 followed by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in February 2021.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made up of messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology involving the injection of a small part of the virus’s genetic code to stimulate the recipient’s immune response. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine takes a different approach, using human cells to make protein against the coronavirus while also having an immune response when in contact with the virus. Johnson & Johnson used a similar approach for its Ebola vaccine.
The FDA in May approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use for 12- to 15-year-olds after previously being available for teens and adults ages 16 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for adult use only.
Public health officials have emphasized that the more people get vaccinated, allowing them to have the antibodies to fight against the deadly virus, the sooner a “new normal” society will be established. Health risks will also continue to decrease for the most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with comorbidities like hypertension, diabetes, and autoimmune disease disorders.
“Getting the vaccine made me feel as though I am not only helping myself but my community, and playing my part as an Easton resident to make a more normal society possible,” Lynn Grens, 77, said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 13 lifted the mask requirements for fully vaccinated people. The Connecticut Department of Public Health determines the guidance for the state, working in conjunction with Gov. Ned Lamont. As of May 19, Connecticut’s protocols regarding masks and face coverings were updated to align with the updated CDC recommendations. By mid-June, daily Covid-19 infection and hospitalization rates had reached their lowest levels since last summer.
Despite these positive results, vaccine hesitancy lingers and has become a political issue. Adverse reactions by a small group of women to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in early April contributed to the fear and resistance and was amplified by some media, which broadcast these findings to its audience nightly. However, the CDC determined that the vaccine was in fact safe to administer after further testing.
Presently, the Delta variant is a growing threat for people who aren’t vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled the Delta variant a “variant of concern.” The designation is given to strains of a virus that scientists believe are more transmissible or can cause more severe disease.
The faster shots get into arms, the sooner life will get back to normal, government and health officials emphasize. The vaccine is a much more effective way to prevent the spread of the virus than to treat it.
“Although many things have been popping up and it does bring fear into people, getting vaccinated and having that herd immunity will limit the spread of this deadly virus and bring us closer to the normal that we all miss so much,” said Grens.
Getting vaccinated is essential for people of all ages. “The sooner we reach herd immunity and the more we are open minded and aware of what is happening with this vaccine, the better protected we can be against not only Covid-19 but other viruses and other illnesses,” said Maddison Jones, 19, a sophomore at Sacred Heart University.
Many universities, including SHU, opened vaccination sites to ensure that students can be fully on campus in the fall. “Our goal in September is to come back to an 80% vaccination rate; we want herd immunity,” said Gary MacNamara, SHU executive director of public safety and government affairs.
Millions of lives were already taken by the virus before vaccines were widely available, and infection rates remain high in the parts of the world where vaccination rates are low or the vaccine is scarce. Increased access to the vaccine globally and a continued commitment to getting vaccinated locally, will prevent the already tragic number of 4 million deaths from approaching the 25 million lives lost during the Plague seven centuries ago.