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Opinion: Fighting COVID requires more than vaccines

If you’re like I am, there are times when you shout at no one in particular, “Stop all of this contradictory information.”

You can forgive us if we are suffering from COVID battle fatigue with many changing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

I have spoken to scores of relatives, friends and others, and all we want is for clear guidance on what we are supposed to do to protect ourselves - A, do this; B, do that, etc.

We have been fighting COVID-19 and its variants for two years, and the number of infections and hospitalization are at near historic highs. I can appreciate that each variant - first delta, now omicron, and who knows what tomorrow will bring - has its own footprints. We know that omicron, for example, is much more communicable than delta but far less deadly, especially for those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

So why are we getting all of what seems like contradictory information from our nation’s official health organization and its leader? According to Walensky, “The science is evolving, and we are following the science. Our guidance is evolving as the science evolves.”

Translation: The guidance given today may not hold up tomorrow, or maybe it will, or maybe some other guidance will be given by then. It is just head-spinning. For example, for the longest time, cloth masks were fine for protecting us and those around us, but just last week we were told that we should use a better grade mask, such as an N95. We were also told, however, that any mask is better than none.

We were told booster shots are needed to enhance protection. Now, European Union regulators are warning us that too many booster shots could adversely affect our immune response. Some people, it seems, are getting these boosters every four months or so. Not a good idea, the EU medical specialists said. Instead, they said, countries should leave more time between booster programs and tie them to the onset of the cold season in each hemisphere.

So what are we to do beside wring our hands? For starters, let’s stop pretending that the vaccines are magic bullets that will put a dome of invincible protection around us. They won’t, and they can’t.

Another fact that even Walensky has come to acknowledge lately is that a number of COVID deaths have occurred among those who had other medical problems that were exacerbated by COVID. Our official statistics on COVID cases and deaths, however, do not break out these individuals, so it appears that they were all done in by COVID alone rather than by a combination of factors referred to as “comorbidities.”

We need to step up other precautions that might have been relaxed over the last year or more because we are being told that these vaccines are more than 90% effective and will protect us. They will, but not perfectly.

For one thing, we can avoid crowds. I am sure you are saying to yourself, “C’mon, Bruce, give us a break - been there, done that.” You’re tired of isolation. We need that social interaction to make life bearable. We want to be in contact with our family members and friends.

Of course, we do, and we can, so long as we’re smart about it. Keep family gatherings small and manageable. Wear masks for the greeting and departure when hugs and kisses are in abundance. Whenever possible, stay a safe distance from each other. Make sure that all family members are protected as much as possible, because, in the process, they will be protecting each other.

Let’s stay healthy by eating right, exercising and taking care of ourselves, and, for goodness’ sake, stop smoking. That is especially dangerous now. When we improve our natural defenses, along with taking sensible precautions, we enhance our chances of avoiding contracting COVID, or if we do get it, it is likely to be less severe.

Another important measure, which was front and center at the beginning of the pandemic but about which we don’t hear much any more, is practicing sanitary measures, such as washing our hands vigorously when we return home from shopping, use the toilet, eating out or visiting any venue whose cleaning protocols we’re not familiar with. Remember how we were instructed to count to 20 while washing our hands or singing “Happy Birthday” twice to ensure that we had washed them thoroughly?

Another tool in our anti-COVID box is hand sanitizer, which was almost impossible to get at the start of the pandemic. Let’s not forget how effective it is in killing germs. Carrying a small bottle with us will help keep us safe. And good news: It’s more plentiful now.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.