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Dr. James Hodges is an extraordinary 67-year-old intern in Central Texas. His most famous patient is former President George W. Bush.
Hodges was double vaccinated against COVID with Moderna in February last year, but saw a large number of patients in hospitals, in his practice and in nursing homes, and he received COVID in August. His only risk factor for complications was obesity, and despite the vaccine, the delta variant struck him with extreme fatigue, body aches, loss of smell and taste, severe headaches and coughs.
Fortunately, his heart rate monitor always read over 92% oxygen saturation, he avoided the hospital, and he went back to work after three weeks. He says he could not work more than half a day until the fifth week. It took three months for his cough to disappear. The loss of smell and taste has persisted from time to time since.
In November, Hodges was boosted with Moderna, and now in late January he has tested PCR positive for COVID again, the omicron variant, but he has no further symptoms. He’s isolating himself this week, but is doing just fine.
People everywhere are confused about cases like Hodges and use them to show that the vaccine is failing. But they are wrong.
The original vaccine protected him from serious illness, but he still got a moderate case due to his obesity. The booster plus recovery from COVID (natural immunity) protected him almost completely from omicron, which evades immunity just enough for someone like Hodges to test positive.
New research supports this. Studies from Israel, the UK and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that fully boosted individuals (three shots) have a 90% protection against hospitalization. And studies from Qatar and elsewhere show a 50% protection against clinical infection. If you even got away from COVID, as Hodges did, the protection is so much greater, even against a highly transferable variant like the omicron. Against omicron, the more immunity you have, the better, from any source.
No one who has recently recovered should be forced to be vaccinated to save their job or visit a public area.
People do not know whether to believe that the COVID pandemic is on its way out or not. Will omicron, with millions of undocumented cases a day in the US plus the close to one million documented, lead to sufficiently widespread immunity to create a wall against the next variant before it emerges? We are looking to South Africa for the answer and some comparisons can be made.
Dr. Waasilla Jassat, Head of DATCOV Hospital Surveillance at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, South Africa, told me on “Doctor Radio” on SiriusXM that she thought the rapid rise and fall of omicron was due to several factors, including previous delta wave, which had created some partial immunity; a strong vaccination campaign in the midst of the outbreak; rapid immunity caused by recovered omicron patients; and the fact that the population was relatively young with several existing conditions.
Omicron spread widely and caused mostly milder cases. It was also summer there where respiratory viral spread is harder to maintain.
Since then, countries with high vaccination and booster rates, such as Portugal, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, have shown a decoupling effect with high cases but low hospitalizations and deaths.
Here in the United States, we now have an average of over 150,000 admissions per day, with the death rate averaging over 2,000 daily, still predominantly among those without prior immunity. The numbers here are falling rapidly in the northeast, while rising in the south and west, predicting a several weeks longer exit from omicron than South Africa experienced.
Meanwhile, people are asking me what to do. Should I take a booster? Should I wear a mask or should I not? Can I eat at a restaurant? When should I test myself to see if I am actually capable of acquiring home testing?
I tell people that the answers are clearer than they are led to believe by either the government or those who support it, or by those who react strongly against it. Public health defies politics.
Masks are of limited value unless they are KN95 or better and worn correctly – KN95 is expensive and N95 is difficult to wear. Four N95 masks sent to your house are not useless, but are more of a political gesture than a serious public health intervention.
Quick home testing is valuable and pretty much accurate when experiencing COVID symptoms, but the delay in getting the tests to underserved communities is significant.
The lack of available therapies (the game changer pill Paxlovid) and the monoclonal antibodies that work well against omicron (Sotrovimab) are enough to lose confidence in government intervention if you still had any.
I and other experts count COVID recovery as the equivalent of at least one shot. The White House or the CDC’s failure to recognize this reality is significant. No one who has recently recovered should be forced to be vaccinated to save their job or visit a public area.
Mandates make no sense when dealing with a vaccine-avoiding variant or an ineffective mask. At the same time, it makes no sense to respond to state rigidity or hypocrisy by refusing to be vaccinated or boosted or to wear a mask up close.
The fastest and safest way for us to get out of the pandemic soon is for many more of us to be vaccinated and boosted, and for all of us to voluntarily adhere to at least some mitigating strategies.
The government must be much less oppositional and should immediately give up on their derogatory rhetoric and restrictions and meet people where they live. Omicron immunity and vaccines do the rest.