NOLAN FINLEY

Finley: Can't hide from COVID behind jabs, masks

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

The omicron variant has illustrated that vaccines are a mitigator of COVID-19, not an eliminator. And it's teaching us there's no impenetrable shield that will keep us safe from the virus. We can't hide from it behind jabs and masks. 

More in my circle of friends and family have COVID than at any point of the pandemic, and nearly all are fully vaccinated. But none have got much sicker than they would have with a cold or the flu. As of Dec. 25, almost 60% of cases of COVID-19 in the country were caused by the omicron variant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That affirms the importance of getting vaccinated. But omicron has also exposed the reality that vaccines aren't working nearly as well as we hoped to prevent the spread of the virus. 

What we've learned over the past few weeks from the omicron variant is that vaccines are a mitigator of COVID-19, not an eliminator, Finley writes.

And that calls into question the wisdom of vaccine mandates, especially as the science and efficacy of the vaccine can now be compared to other innovative COVID treatments like GlaxoSmithKline's Sotrovimab and other types of monoclonal antibodies effective against delta and other earlier variants of the virus. 

If you get COVID and don't end up in the hospital or die, who cares? The vaccines have proven themselves effective in that regard. While case numbers have surged, deaths haven't kept pace.

A Carnival Cruise Lines ship that set sail just before Christmas required all passengers to be vaccinated and tested for COVID before they boarded. That didn't prevent a small outbreak from running through the ship, keeping it from docking at some of its scheduled ports. 

That experience should inform policymaking. Dr. Anthony Fauci's call for a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel seems dated, now that we know vaccinated people can spread the virus the same as the unvaccinated.

South Africa, where omicron was first detected, was considering a nationwide vaccine mandate just four weeks ago. But since then, case rates have plummeted and talk has turned to lifting contact tracing and quarantines. 

The nation's vaccination rate is just 25%, but health officials there estimate 80% of the population has had COVID. South Africans believe they are benefiting from herd immunity, a theory the United States has stubbornly rejected in favor of the more aggressive goal of universal vaccination.

If the U.S. mimics the South African experience, omicron will quickly race through the population, and then just as rapidly subside. Absent yet another mutation of COVID, that could be the turning point that moves the virus from pandemic to endemic. 

We may have at last reached the point in the pandemic at which we can accept more risk in the name of returning to normal. The CDC seemed to recognize that this week when it cut the quarantine time for those who test positive without symptoms to five days from 10.

The longer isolation period for those who weren't visibly sick was crippling the airline, health care and other industries. The decision was a nod to the fact that a positive test, for most people, particularly the vaccinated, is no longer a potential death sentence.

Our energy and resources should shift to ramping up production and distributing the new medicines and antibody treatments that promise to dramatically cut the virus' mortality rate. 

If omicron is any indication, we can all expect to get COVID at some point, no matter how hard we try to dodge it. If we get vaccinated and mind our health, that's something we can live with, just as we've lived with influenza.  

The passing of 2021 should mark the end of having our lives limited by COVID-19.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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