Health News
Health News
October 1, 2021
Fall 2021 COVID-19 Update

Nearly two years in to the COVID-19 pandemic, the circumstances surrounding this global health threat continue to evolve. 

The good news is doctors, scientists and public health officials have made tremendous strides in a short amount of time in treating those who get sick and developing effective vaccines to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. 

On the other hand, SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – continues to adapt and evolve.  The Delta variant that is driving the current spread of the virus is particularly contagious, making the pandemic more challenging to contain and control. 

The combination of a highly contagious variant and a large share of the population that is not yet vaccinated has combined to create an environment in which there is widespread community transmission. And because COVID-19 is such a serious illness, the increase in cases unfortunately means hospital intensive care units are filling up and COVID-19 deaths are again on the rise. 

The Delta Variant

2021 began with a sustained peak in cases that took place over the winter months.  Then, as the new vaccines were made available, cases began to drop considerably.  By the late spring, it appeared that the pandemic was well on the way to being under control for good and that we could all get back to normal soon.

However, things began to change for the worse by mid-summer.  The Delta variant became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, fueling a new wave of infections. The Delta variant is especially problematic because:

  • Delta is more than twice as contagious as previous forms of the virus.
  • Delta may cause more serious illness than previous forms of the virus, although more research is needed.
  • The Delta variant is having a greater impact on children than previous variants. It has been shown that it can spread rapidly in school environments. 

The impact of the Delta variant has been significant and serious in Texas:

  • In August, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to nearly the same level as in the winter 2020-21 peak.
  • Dozens of school districts have had to temporarily close due to widespread transmission in their communities.
  • Deaths are at the highest level since February, with more than 4,800 Texans dying due to COVID-19 in August alone.

Vaccination: The Way to End the Pandemic

The COVID-19 vaccines have given the world the best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic.  While much progress has been made, more work remains to be done.  As of late September:

  • 65% of Americans 12 and older are fully vaccinated
  • 75% of Americans 12 and older have received at least one dose
  • 61% of Texans 12 and older are fully vaccinated
  • 71% of Texans 12 and older have received at least one dose

In all, 390 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far in the United States, as of late September.  Considering that zero doses had been administered 10 months ago, this is an impressive feat!  But it’s still not enough – to stop the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the number of serious illnesses and deaths, many more people must get vaccinated. 

The Delta variant was able to take hold over the summer because the number of Americans getting vaccinated slowed down.  An adult who is not yet fully vaccinated for COVID-19 is at much greater risk of getting COVID-19 and experiencing serious illness, hospitalization and death than someone who is fully vaccinated.  In Texas, more than 90% of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. 

The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and highly effective at preventing serious illness or death.  Vaccines go through extensive testing by the Unites States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) before they are approved for emergency use.  The Pfizer vaccine has cleared an even higher threshold, receiving full approval from the FDA recently.  The other vaccines are expected to receive a similar full approval in the near future. 

Data show that vaccinated people enjoy a high degree of protection from COVID-19, with the odds of contracting the virus greatly reduced.  While “breakthrough” infections have been reported – that is, a fully vaccinated person testing positive for COVID-19 – they are relatively rare.  Even more importantly, fully vaccinated people who do contract COVID-19 are highly unlikely to experience a serious illness; their symptoms are more likely to be mild and last for a shorter duration of time. 

Vaccine Options

There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States: Pfizer/BioN-Tech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.  All three are highly effective at preventing people from getting sick from COVID-19. 

  • The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses, a minimum of 21 days apart.
  • The Moderna vaccine is administered in two doses, a minimum of 28 days apart.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered in just one dose.

Vaccines are widely available and convenient.  You can now get your COVID-19 vaccine at virtually any pharmacy.  Visit vaccines.gov to easily find locations near you. 

Once it has been two weeks since your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or two weeks after your single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated have the maximum level of protection against COVID-19, including the Delta variant. 

Additionally, the Pfizer vaccine is now approved and recommended for children 12 and up (the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently approved only for adults 18 and older).  Parents of children 12 or older should take their child to get the Pfizer vaccine so they will be protected against COVID-19.  This is especially important now that the school year is underway and data show that the Delta variant spreads easily in classroom settings. 

Booster Shots

Over time, the level of immunity afforded by a vaccine can diminish.  That’s why some vaccines require boosters; for example, we need to get a tetanus booster every 10 years.  

The FDA has approved a booster dose for the Pfizer vaccine, after reviewing data and research to verify that a third shot is safe and effective.  The FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have both evaluated the data in order to determine who should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 

Updated CDC guidelines say the following people should receive a booster six months after they have completed their initial, two-dose series of the vaccine:

  • Anyone aged 65 or older
  • Long-term care residents aged 18 and older
  • People aged 50—64 who have certain underlying heath conditions

Additionally, the CDC says certain people may receive a booster shot based on their individual situation and risks.  This includes:

  • People aged 18-49 with certain underlying medical conditions
  • People aged 18-64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure due to their job

The CDC recommends people with the following underlying health conditions receive the booster, especially those aged 50 and older:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Dementia and other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, cardiomyopathies and heart failure
  • HIV infection
  • Immunocompromised/weakened immune system
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight or obese
  • Pregnancy
  • Blood disorders, such as Sickle Cell Disease
  • Current or former smokers
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant recipients
  • Stroke
  • Substance use disorders

If you are unsure if you should get a booster, see your primary care provider to discuss it.

The FDA and CDC are expected to give further guidance on the possibility of a booster for those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the weeks and months ahead. 

Debunking Vaccine Myths

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.  This has contributed to vaccine hesitancy, as people understandably do not want to get the vaccine if they honestly believe it could have negative effects on their health.  Vaccine hesitancy is a key reason that vaccination rates have slowed, allowing the Delta variant to spread so easily.   

There are many sources of information available at the click of a mouse or a quick search on your phone.  It can be hard – and overwhelming – to know what sources of information to trust.  Just remember, it’s important to get information from credible sources. 

Medical websites like this one and official government sites like the CDC provide accurate, well-sourced information based on data and research.  Relying on information found on social media platforms can be risky – a lot of it is wrong and some of it can even be dangerous. 

According to the CDC, these are some of the more common myths about the COVID-19 vaccines currently circulating:

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine contains microchips

Truth: There are no microchips in any vaccine.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine can cause you to become magnetic.

Truth: There is no way a vaccine can cause you to become magnetic.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine can make you infertile.

Truth:  There is no evidence that the vaccine interferes with fertility.

Myth: The vaccine will cause me to shed the virus.

Truth: The vaccine contains no virus; therefore, you cannot shed it.

Myth: The vaccine will alter my DNA.

Truth: There is no way the vaccine can alter your DNA. 

Much like the myth that common, proven childhood vaccines can cause autism, the misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines is dangerous.  Misinformation that leads people to doubt the safety of vaccines and causes them to skip them puts their health and the health of others at risk. 

Consider the source of information before you accept it as the truth.  If you have questions about something you have heard or read, ask your doctor. He or she can give you the right information and answer any questions you may have. 

Keep Playing it Safe

As long as the Delta variant continues to drive widespread transmission of COVID-19, the CDC recommends taking additional precautions until the pandemic is under control.  That means continuing to avoid large indoor gatherings, wearing a mask indoors when you are out and about and practicing good hygiene, like frequent handwashing. 

Masking while indoors continues to be one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus.  All unvaccinated people should mask indoors to protect themselves and others.  And while community spread remains high, it is recommended that vaccinated people wear masks, as well.  Since breakthrough infections do happen, it is best to take this added step for additional protection. 

By getting ourselves and our families fully vaccinated now and continuing to practice social distancing and masking, we will be able to put the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us sooner rather than later. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Texas Department of State Health Services

U.S. Food & Drug Administration

The Texas Tribune