Drive for 75: Resources from Week 25

Members | August 27, 2021 | by Dee Pekruhn, Jill Schumann

LeadingAge Coronavirus Update Calls feature brief segments called “Drive for 75” to promote the successful vaccination of at least 75% of our aging services providers’ workforce, and as needed, residents. We will cover developments in the news, research, and innovative practices that support our members in attaining high vaccination rates.

This Week’s Highlights:

Volume Sixty: Air Date 8.23.21. “Hesitancy & the Cat in the Ceiling”

I have to tell you the truth, folks. It’s getting harder to choose what to feature for Drive for 75, because there’s so much to read and process out there every day, that it’s hard to pick just one. And that’s because this question is so much on the minds of all of us: what on earth will it take to get the remaining hold-outs vaccinated?

Let me give you a few current examples:

· There’s the Op-Ed written by a sociology professor at the University of California –entitled, I lost my Father to Cancer, and My Sister to Vaccine Refusal. She talks about how her sister adamantly refuses to take the vaccine – even after she and her entire family got COVID, and when not getting vaccinated meant not saying goodbye to their dying father. It’s heartbreaking story about how vaccine refusal has torn apart a family just when most families are starting to reunite.

· In the Economist there’s a piece about How Might the Return to Classrooms Affect COVID Transmission. Here, the author ponders a European CDC projection that a higher proportion of cases will be found among children as more adults become fully inoculated. An important trend to watch for, as we know that much of our workforce has young children, and if more children bring home COVID to unvaccinated workers, well… we can see where that may lead.

· The New York Times reviews how “Nursing Is In Crisis,” and how extremely short-staffed hospitals such as Singing River Health System in Alabama must keep rooms vacant, with patients piling up in the waiting rooms and driveways of Emergency Rooms. I know we’re all wondering how the same issue will affect our healthcare services and settings, as we discuss vaccine mandates.

· And the Washington Post offers How to Talk to Your Vaccine Hesitant Friends and Family about Getting the Shot. It lists all the things we’d expect: take time to listen, tailor your message to your audience, focus on your relationship, use motivational interviewing, and keep trying even if the first few attempts don’t work.

· And then, there’s an article in the Atlantic, entitled, I Spent 5 Months Trying to Coax a Cat from my Ceiling. A woman in her 40s has a stray cat that she can’t get to socialize with her at all – until she discovers the cat has painful abscessed teeth. When the teeth are addressed, the cat stops living in the ceiling and becomes a lovely house pet. I know you’re wondering, what on earth does that have to do with vaccine hesitancy?? Listen to what the author writes at the end:

And I realized what I had been missing. This human-cat relationship had been dominated by my feelings and my interpretations of her behavior—what I saw, what I wanted, and what I thought I could control. There had been no cat in it at all. But when dealing with an animal with its own experiences and drives, control is an illusion. All you can really strive for is understanding.

You can apply a lot of this to human- human relationships as well. Sometimes, intense pain or fear drives a person’s behavior, and we make all sorts of – wrong- assumptions about what it means. Perhaps vaccine hesitant people are like this cat – scared, in pain, sticking to what they know is safe and secure. They may not leave the ceiling on their own. Our job is to understand that once their pain and fear is addressed, perhaps then they will happily rejoin our society. If you’ve ever tried to ‘force’ a cat to do anything, you know the truth in these words!

· And speaking of addressing fears: Finally, I’ve included in the handouts today a link to the VAERS website – the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. If you’ve heard wild reports – myths – about how many COVID deaths there have been among the vaccinated, we encourage you to check out the data for yourself.

Volume Sixty-One: Air Date 8.25.21. “Goldilocks and the Rise of Delta”

A recent article called the Delta variant the “Goldilocks Virus”. The first sentence of the article reads “The variant battle in the United States is over. Delta won.”

Since late last year, we have endured a series of coronavirus variants. On May 8, delta caused about 1 percent of new infections. Now it accounts for about 95% in the U.S. In a few short weeks, the delta variant changed the calculations for what it will take to end the pandemic. Epidemiologists had hoped getting 70 or 80 percent of the population vaccinated, in combination with immunity from natural infections, would bring the virus under control. But a more contagious virus means the vaccination target needs to be much higher, perhaps in the range of 90 percent. With so many people unvaccinated, in the United States and around the world, the virus has abundant opportunity not only to spread and sicken large numbers of people, but to mutate further.

Benjamin Neuman, a virologist with Texas A&M University says, “It’s like ‘Jurassic Park,’ the moment you realize the dinosaurs have all got loose again.” Just when we were hoping for a return to normal.

Three factors have played a role in the rise of delta:

Behavior. As infection numbers started dropping in mid-April, people began returning to gyms, restaurants, ballparks, and theaters. Hopeful human nature took over and only the hypervigilant refused to behave as if the pandemic had ended.

Vaccine resistance. In May, the rate of vaccination slowed dramatically. As of mid-August, more than 90 million people nationwide who could get a shot haven’t. Tens of millions of children remain ineligible because the vaccines are not yet approved for them.

The delta variant itself. The rapid domination of delta is the real-world proof that this variant is different. Scientists are racing to understand what makes this variant so successful. What’s most concerning to scientists is how the coronavirus keeps getting better at jumping from person to person. The original strain had an estimated reproductive number — an “R-naught” — of roughly 2.5. That’s the average number of new infections generated by each infected person in a population without immunity or mitigations. Any number above 1 means that outbreaks will expand and spread. The CDC and other scientists say delta has a reproductive number greater than 5.

The result is the surge the United States has endured this summer. Emphasizing the difference in the delta variant really ought to motivate people to get vaccinated, especially given the rate of hospitalization and death for people, including young people, who are not vaccinated. Let’s spread the word about delta, but let’s not spread delta!