Responding to

"Hope doesn't come from calculating whether the good news is winning out over the bad. It's simply a choice to take action."

Anna Lappe
By now, most everyone knows that Phase 1b of the state's vaccination effort to end the coronavirus pandemic is in full swing.

As an "essential service," Kitchen Angels is notified when vaccination events are scheduled and we are notifying volunteers by text and e-mail. But you must be registered with the Department of Health, through their vaccine registration portal, in order to take advantage of these opportunities. Staff and a number of volunteers have already taken advantage of two vaccination events that were held last week. We expect to learn of more in the coming days and weeks and will continue to share the information.

Now that folks are receiving their first of the two-dose series, questions about what it means to be vaccinated continue to come up. Here's some basic information.

You probably won't have a choice of whether you receive the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine. Both are available in New Mexico and both utilize the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology rather than using a modified virus (such as the flu vaccine uses). Neither vaccine is introducing the virus into your body.

You're not immune from the virus after your first shot. The Pfizer vaccine was shown to be only partially effective 21 days after the first dose. It's only 21 days after the second dose that your body will develop the maximum protection. With the Moderna vaccine, it will take 28 days after the second dose. And not everyone's body will develop the same level of protection. That's why all the protective measures we've had in place since March - face masks, physical distancing, hand washing, avoiding crowds - remain critical. Additionally, public health experts estimate that as many as 10% of people won't respond to the vaccine leaving them vulnerable to infection. And, while reinfection with the coronavirus is uncommon, it can still happen.

There's another reason that continuing with our protective measures after vaccination is important. The two vaccines currently being distributed don't prevent infection with the coronavirus, they teach your body how to react to the virus so that, if you do become infected, you either won't develop symptoms or the symptoms will be mild. This means that vaccinated individuals can likely still spread the virus to others.

Being fully vaccinated doesn't mean that we can go back to our pre-pandemic lives, even though it's a major step in that direction. Panagis Galiatsatos, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine cautions, "The vaccine is the first chapter in the endgame, but it is not itself the endgame. We need up to 80% of the US population to get the vaccine. It could take about a year."

We're on our way, but we're not through the pandemic yet.
When will we be able to get together with our friends without masks and physical distancing?

Amanda Northrop writes in Vox that we can expect life to return to normal in three stages, not all at once. Stage 1 is what we'll be able to do safely once we and our close friends or family are vaccinated. Stage 2 is what we'll be able to do once our city or state has reached herd immunity. And Stage 3 is what we'll be able to do once herd immunity is achieved internationally. She says epidemiologists believe there's a good chance we won't reach Stage 3 until sometime after 2021.

And what will life look like after the pandemic?

According to Apoorva Mandavilli, "Once immunity is widespread in adults, the virus rampaging across the world will come to resemble the common cold, scientists predict." She cites a study reported in the journal Science that, while the coronavirus is a menace now because it's unfamiliar to our bodies, once a majority of the population has been either vaccinated or exposed, the virus will be no more of a threat than the common cold. And, because children are constantly challenged by pathogens that are new to their bodies, the study suggests that, eventually, the virus will be of concern only in children younger than 5, subjecting even them to mere sniffles — or no symptoms at all. Researchers predict the coronavirus will become “endemic,” a pathogen that circulates at low levels and only rarely causes serious illness.

Jennie Lavine, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the study, and her colleagues looked to the six other human coronaviruses, four that cause the common cold, plus the SARS and MERS viruses, for clues to the fate of the new pathogen. The four common cold coronaviruses are endemic, and produce only mild symptoms. SARS and MERS, which surfaced in 2003 and 2012, respectively, made people severely ill, but they did not spread widely. “The timing of how long it takes to get to this sort of endemic state depends on how quickly the disease is spreading, and how quickly vaccination is rolled out,” Dr. Lavine commented. "So really, the name of the game is getting everyone exposed for the first time to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”

Another possible scenario is that the virus may come to resemble the seasonal flu, which is mild some years and more lethal in others. New variants of the coronavirus that evade the immune response may also complicate the picture.

There are certainly other possible scenarios about how the coronavirus will affect people, long term. It may mutate and become more difficult to control. It may mutate and become less of a threat. Simply put, we won't know until we know. And knowing will take time. Until then, we can only work with the information we have at hand.

Trying to put the insanity and chaos of the past year, and the forecasts for the future, into some sort of perspective, this is what I come up with. Vaccine research, development, and production will continue to speed up. Vaccinations will continue to roll out. Supply chains will be stretched until they can be strengthened to meet demand. People will change their minds repeatedly about whether or not they want to receive the vaccine. Infections will continue to occur (as will, unfortunately, deaths from COVID complications). We will each be asked to continue with our protective measures at home, at Kitchen Angels, and throughout the community. In short, things will be messy for some time to come.

And we will each be different for having lived through the pandemic.

As Kitchen Angels learns more about vaccination events, about vaccine development, about community efforts, or about changes in protective protocols, we'll keep our volunteers and clients as informed as possible. Because one thing I'm certain of - with timely and accurate information, each of us will be able to make the most informed decisions we can.

Until we're through the pandemic, please continue to do everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.