Circumspect Granite Staters - The Age of COVID-19
by Walter King, Ph.D.
As a virologist who has studied and developed regulatory agency-cleared tests for infectious and genetic diseases, I have been following, with great interest, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its resulting disease impact, termed COVID-19. There are several topics of positive news. The first is that new COVID cases in New Hampshire have clearly trended downward from the middle of May for about a month with only occasional spikes. Since the third week of June, the trend has been flat with an average incidence of 24 new cases per day. The second is that daily reported deaths have dropped from a high of 29 on May 10 to an average of 4. The third area of good news is the lower death rate of very ill patients. This is due to better treatment regimens which have resulted from a better understanding of the disease process.
Granite State’s Statistics - Well Above Average
These results have distinguished New Hampshire as one of just three states where COVID cases have dropped and held steady for 3 weeks between June 28 and July 10, with NJ and RI being the other (NPR, July 17, 2020). If we continue to exercise the practices that got us to this point, such as personal protective measures, avoiding large crowds, social distancing, and personal hygiene, we can fully expect to keep this disease under control, which is good for all of us and also for the economy. All Granite Staters should be proud of this.
No Time To Rest On Our Laurels
However, there are still several unknowns that we need to be mindful of. First, there is still much we do not know about the effects of the virus on our bodies. Since it was first studied, we have come to understand COVID-19 is a multi-organ disease that can be lethal or long-lasting and/or irreparable. Furthermore, experts are still uncovering the risk factors that are associated with disease severity. Add to this, the largely unknown level of viral infectivity in asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and convalescent individuals, and one can see that it is prudent to be cautious until there is an effective vaccine.
Tempering Our Expectations
This brings us to the prophylactic measures, which have been highly anticipated. In this regard, we should temper our expectations. A recent clinical study of over 60,000 participants in Spain indicated that herd immunity is problematic with only ~5% of the population having detectable antibodies to the virus (The Lancet, July 6, 2020). The relatively low seroprevalence observed in the context of an intense epidemic in Spain indicates that herd immunity is difficult to achieve. In support of this finding, it is known that coronaviruses do not tend to trigger long-lasting immunity. About a quarter of common colds are caused by human coronaviruses, but the immune response fades so rapidly that people can become reinfected the next year. For these reasons, it would be wise to be circumspect on vaccines until the clinical trials are completed and longer termed studies are underway. Additionally, the widespread availability of billions of doses of vaccine is a daunting logistical and supply chain challenge. It may be that for the vast majority of us, the availability of a vaccine will be delayed as frontline healthcare workers, senior home residents and other essential workers will have priority.
In the meantime, we need to remember the successes we have achieved in New Hampshire and redouble our efforts to practice the measures that have made us a model for the rest of the country. We need to be in this together.
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Walter King is a retired research and development executive who worked at several leading global healthcare companies including GE Healthcare, Whatman and Abbott Diagnostics. He developed FDA-cleared products for several cancer and prenatal genetic diseases as well as infectious diseases. He is an emeritus member of the American Association for Cancer Research. He completed his college and graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago respectively and completed his postdoctoral studies at the Columbia University Medical Center. In his retirement he serves on the City of Dover Energy Commission is a member of the New Hampshire Democratic Committee State Committee. He is an active member of the Dover Democratic Committee and serves on the Dover Dems’ Executive Committee.