(illustration/Harleigh Bellmann)

The turn of the new year has offered new hope and a recontextualization of the optimistic outlook projected one year ago. Nearly 120 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred worldwide with almost 30 million in the United States alone. More than 540,000 people in the US have died due to complications of the virus. Ohio contributed 839,391 confirmed cases and 17,825 deaths.  The rate of new daily infections in Ohio is dropping, but the United States is still the leader in confirmed cases.

At this point, there are four confirmed variant strains of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 infections), U.K.: B.1.1.7, South African: B1.351, Brazilian: P.1, and Californian: CAL.20C. B.1.1.7 is the fastest spreading of the four variants. B.1.351 is more likely to cause reinfection. P.1 contains mutations concerning transmission and reinfection. CAL.20C accounts for more than 30% of the cases in California. At this point, there is no reason to suspect that vaccination will not combat these variants as well.

There are currently three versions of COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the FDA: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two doses, but they are equitably effective: 95% and 94.1% respectively. While Johnson & Johnson is a single dose vaccine, it is far less effective than the other two at 66.3%.

Trajectory of vaccination production and administration points to the prediction that the public will be largely vaccinated by the end of May. However, the only people being reliably vaccinated in Ohio are the most at risk populations (elderly patients over the age of 49, high risk disabilities and conditions such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and end-stage renal disease), and specific frontline workers including child care services. Thankfully, the Ohio Department of Health (DOH) has provided a centralized scheduling website for confirmation of eligibility and appointment booking. For a complete list of Ohio’s current phase plan, the DOH released this fact sheet.

Healthwise Pharmacy offers periodic vaccination days where APhA Immunization certified pharmacy students can vaccinate pre-screened and selected individuals. Any eligible student who wishes to participate should look for emails directly from Dr. Michelle Musser, the outreach coordinator.

Until vaccination rates are high enough to constitute herd immunity, the public must treat the pandemic as serious; there will come a day when society can return to normal, but that day is not today. In the meantime, students should continue to be screened for COVID-19 infections as needed, follow social distancing directives, and wear their masks in public.

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