Drive for 75: Resources from Week 28

Workforce | September 17, 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-Six: Air Date 9.13.21 “Hybrid Immunity”

We all know people who have been ill with COVID-19 and believe they have good immunity, and are choosing not to get vaccinated. Might this angle might make a difference in their thinking?

Hybrid immunity occurs when someone has had COVID-19 and then subsequently is vaccinated. Over the past several months, a series of studies has found that some people mount an extraordinarily powerful immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Their bodies produce very high levels of antibodies, but they also make antibodies with great flexibility — likely capable of fighting off the coronavirus variants circulating in the world but also likely effective against variants that may emerge in the future.

People who have had a "hybrid" exposure to the virus -specifically, they were infected with the coronavirus in 2020 and then immunized with mRNA vaccines this year have “amazing responses to the vaccine," says virologist Theodora Hatziioannou at Rockefeller University. "I think they are in the best position to fight the virus. The antibodies in these people's blood can even neutralize SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus, which emerged 20 years ago. That virus is very, very different from SARS-CoV-2."

In fact, these antibodies were even able to deactivate a virus engineered, on purpose, to be highly resistant to neutralization. This virus contained 20 mutations that are known to prevent SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from binding to it. Antibodies from people who were only vaccinated or who only had prior coronavirus infections were essentially useless against this mutant virus. But antibodies in people with the "hybrid immunity" could neutralize it.

Hatziioannou and colleagues don't know if everyone who has had COVID-19 and then an mRNA vaccine will have such a remarkable immune response. "We've only studied the phenomena with a few patients because it's extremely laborious and difficult research to do," she says. But she suspects it's quite common. Several other studies support her hypothesis — and buttress the idea that exposure to both a coronavirus and an mRNA vaccine triggers an exceptionally powerful immune response.

Of course, there are many remaining questions. For example, what if you catch COVID-19 after you're vaccinated? Or can a person who hasn't been infected with the coronavirus mount a "superhuman" response if the person receives a third dose of a vaccine as a booster? However, the powerful immunity conferred by getting the mRNA vaccine after having contracted COVID-19 seems like a great argument for getting the vaccine. Spread the word.

Volume Sixty-Seven: Air Date 9.15.21. “Dying for Vaccine Hesitancy”

I’ve been reading some sobering articles in the news lately, related to vaccine hesitancy. We all know that President Biden and others call our current situation “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.” CDC just put out a study that found unvaccinated people are 11% more likely to die from COVID than vaccinated people. And with that, there are more articles surfacing, this time from the loved ones of those who have died of COVID. Their goal? Offer their stories of grief and loss as a cautionary tale and motivation to get others to take the vaccine. There are two such articles I’d like to share with you today.

In one, from the LA Times, we find a diary from a black family whose members are struggling with vaccine hesitancy. The author has had bristling arguments with his mother and siblings to get vaccinated; most of those same family members later test positive for COVID, and his grandmother dies. He laments that the real and valid distrust of medical institutions that black families hold deeply has created this insurmountable barrier; he states “Black vaccination hesitancy has valid roots in our healthcare system. But if that distrust creates so much fear that we die when we don’t have to, our Black lives won’t matter much at all.” His hope is that other black families will read this diary and make the decision to get vaccinated; in his words, “Any one of our Black lives can end in a matter of days. Don’t waste time. Go now. We’ll fight the good fight later. Together. Alive.

Coming out of the UK, an article in the Guardian also gave me great pause. There, too, we find more motivational obituaries. The vibrant and promising life of a health conscious but vaccine resistant 40-something is cut short by COVID; a popular local musician, he appears on public TV in his hospital bed, gasping for breath and imploring people to get vaccinated, to see the pandemic and its threats as real. He worked out; ate healthy food; eschewed modern medicine for holistic practices; engaged in community service; and he leaves behind a beautiful wife pregnant with his first child. Other Britons who were hesitant, got COVID, regretted their decisions, and died are also profiled, with loved ones begging others to reconsider not getting the vaccine.

The article, quite interestingly, uses these obituaries as a frame for examining the source factors for conspiracy thinking and belief. In the article, Professor Karen Doulas of the University of Kent states that “Feeling alienated and disenfranchised is associated with greater belief in conspiracy theories,” she says. “People tend to believe in conspiracy theories when they lack power, are part of a minority group, or are disadvantaged.”

On a list of predispositions for conspiratorial thinking, according to Dr. Susannah Kola-Palmer of U. Huddersfield, are strong emotion, low trust in authority, being far left or far right politically, getting information from social media, and lower scores on civic responsibility tests. She also says that “another crucial reason why people may reject vaccinations: “They have lower benefit perceptions, meaning they are less likely to believe that the vaccine will be beneficial to them.”

There’s also a discussion about optimism bias, a naturally protective mechanism in our psyche to prefer information that benefits us to that which is negative. This bias, according to the article’s experts, can lead to a fatal miscalculation about the virus and its risks, even if a person is not a conspiracy theorist or social media maven.

The conclusion, both to these articles and to the entire situation of people dying for their vaccine hesitant beliefs, is sadness. “It is the emotion in unvaccinated patients’ eyes as doctors prepare to intubate them; it is the hand-wringing in waiting rooms as relatives prepare for bad news.”

And regret: that the person hadn’t changed their mind sooner. Another article I read today likened COVID to a war, and the vaccine mandates to a necessary draft when the volunteer army isn’t enough to overcome the enemy. As with any war, any loss of life is tragic and should be among our remembrances and “lessons learned.” The deaths of the vaccine hesitant are being offered to us for consideration; to ensure their deaths are not in vain, to encourage others to get vaccinated and be spared the pain and loss. Let us honor those deaths by sharing their stories, so that others may yet live.