January 7, 2022 – College of Human Medicine
I hope you all had such a great holiday season that beloved parts of American culture can provide, and that you had a chance to rest. Of course, I suggest resting just as the university converts to partial online education and COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing. The rest imperative is not entirely realistic for those who have to change their schedule or work in understaffed hospitals and clinics.
Today’s Town Hall with Keith English, MD, was focused on COVID-19, what we think is our current state and where we think things are going. It’s very difficult to say, but I think a lot of people will get omicron in the next few weeks. My friends who run hospitals say improvised things like âoh yeah, we’ll all get it,â which isn’t exactly true in the short term but gives an idea of ââthe scale.
I don’t think many people would have expected East Lansing High School to have 500 students absent one day this week. (I’m guessing some students weren’t sick but kept home in quarantine, but whatever, that’s an impressive number.) Positive rate percentages are at record highs, cases are at record highs, hospitalizations are increasing and even with the omicron severity decreasing, projections show deaths approaching 3,000 per day next month due to the enormous workload. There are a lot of sick people.
I see reasons for hope. Compared to the delta variant, most people with omicron do not get as sick. For many, it is because they are vaccinated or already infected. I am optimistic we will be turning a corner with COVID-19, which will become the fifth endemic human coronavirus.
Data from the UK suggests hospitalizations and serious illness from omicron are lower than from the delta variant. The same analysis indicates that the efficacy of the primary vaccination with Pfizer is not that great for the omicron, but that a booster brings the efficacy of the vaccine back to something similar to what we see with the delta variant. . If you receive the Moderna booster after a Pfizer primary vaccination, your protection is even better.
Infection with the four old-school endemic human coronaviruses causes us to have protective immunity that lasts for many months to years, but eventually we are susceptible to these viruses again. Most of the time, we notice these re-infections as one of the many viruses that cause the common cold. As with the four endemic coronaviruses, a previous infection ultimately does little to protect you from infection with the omicron COVID-19 variant. Vaccination protects you against serious illness or death. And with the same data, people previously infected are also doing better than people with delta. We will not get rid of COVID-19, and over the next few months or years you will end up getting it like you will catch other coronaviruses. And when you get it, you’ll be much better immune to a vaccine and a booster.
I’m not suggesting that we stop wearing masks, space distancing, or encouraging vaccination. Our hospitals and our health care system are overloaded, we are understaffed, and we almost certainly miss the opportunity to help people because the system is overloaded. Slowing down infections is in everyone’s best interests. That said, to think that you can avoid endemic coronaviruses in the long run is folly. We have to live with coronaviruses as we always have.
In good news from the university, the Provost and the Executive Vice President, our departments are part of four of 13 positions of excellence in DCI positions, now called the 1855 Professorship Initiative. I think our folks have done a great job working with other colleges and units on these proposals, and we should be excited to collaborate on this research in the months to come.
We continue to make progress in the college’s strategic planning process. Our consultants complete the question areas and invite conversations with internal and external college partners. In addition, we are in the process of finalizing the Strategic Planning Working Group. There are about twice as many nominations as there are positions on the working group, and those who are not on the working group will be invited to sit on the working groups. The last part of the selection process attempted to achieve great diversity and balance within the working group in areas such as geography, discipline, gender, race and role within the college. We ask a member of the public to serve as well. My thanks to Carol Parker and her team for all of the hard work in this effort.
There is good snow in many parts of the state, and yet there is no doubt that we will all be sledding in the weeks to come. Thank you for all you do to keep our communities safe and healthy. Take care of yourself and others and find joy in the world.
Serve people with you,
Aron Sousa, MD