Alaska's high COVID-19 vaccination rate pays off
June 1, 2023 | View PDF
COVID-19 transmission continues to occur in many communities across Alaska, although overall case counts continue to slowly decline, according to state officials who are tracking the virus. Most COVID-19 infections in Alaska at this time are caused by viruses belonging to either the XBB.1.5 lineage or to BQ lineages.
While many infections with the virus that causes COVID-19 are not detected or reported, changes over time in the number of reported cases still provide useful information about the trajectory of COVID-19. In Alaska, 72% of the population has received at least one dose and 64.4% are fully vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the states with the lowest full vaccination rates are Wyoming (52.8%); Alabama (52.9%); Mississippi (53.5%); Louisiana (54.8%), Tennessee (56.1%); Idaho (56.2%); Arkansas (56.6%); Georgia (56.9%).
In early 2023, a new Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5, the most transmissible strain of the virus so far, was predominant in the U.S. Cases were also believed to be rising with people spending more time indoors and attending family gatherings. Further, fewer people are wearing masks and taking other mitigation measures. As the virus evolves, new variants with the ability to evade a person’s existing immunity can appear and lead to an increased risk for reinfection. Reinfections may occur during the first 90 days, and as early as several weeks after the previous infection, although this does not happen frequently.
Recommendations change over time
Protection against getting infected wanes over time. Protection against death and severe disease also drops over time, but more slowly. You can increase your protection by getting a booster from six months after your primary course. Following FDA regulatory action, the CDC has taken steps to simplify COVID-19 vaccine recommendations and it is allowing more flexibility for adults at higher risk who want the option of added protection from additional COVID-19 vaccine doses.
These changes include the CDC’s new recommendations to allow an additional updated (bivalent) vaccine dose for adults age 65 years and older and additional doses for people who are immunocompromised. This allows more flexibility for healthcare providers to administer additional doses to immunocompromised patients as needed.
Vitamin D may help fight COVID-19
Treatments for COVID-19 are available and should be considered for people at increased risk for severe disease. The treatments work best when given as soon as possible after symptoms start. Studies have increasingly shown that patients with low vitamin D levels have a greater chance of COVID-19 infection as well as severe disease and death. Now, scientists from Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR) in Pennsylvania have discovered an explanation for the link.
The study found that vitamin D strengthens the lung lining, preventing COVID-19 as well as other viruses from penetrating the body’s airways to cause infection. Vitamin D may help reduce fluid leakage into the airways, which causes pneumonia.
“Your body is mostly sacs and tubes,” said senior author Dr. James Mullin, professor and director of research for Lankenau Medical Center’s gastroenterology division. “If their linings are in good shape, you’re in good shape. If they’re leaking and fail to provide a proper barrier, it’s a problem. When you have a respiratory infection, that means the barrier in your lungs is leaking. Our research gives evidence that vitamin D strengthens the barrier function of the lung lining, likely helping to prevent or stop an infection.”
The study examined cell cultures from human lung linings and found Vitamin D increased barrier function by up to 40%. Previously published studies have indicated that patients with vitamin D deficiency are up to five times more likely to become infected by COVID-19.
“The benefits, however, are so clear and the risks so minimal that we believe physicians should be recommending supplemental vitamin D right away,” Mullin said. “Cytokine storms, where the body’s immune response kicks into overdrive and can result in severe disease and death in COVID, compromise the body’s airway barrier function. We already know from past studies that vitamin D blunts cytokine storms in cases of flu. In cases of COVID-19, vitamin D therapy may allow time for a patient’s own immune defenses to kick in before it’s too late.”
Be kind and isolate when ill
Stay home if you think you might be sick with a respiratory virus, even if your symptoms are mild. People with COVID-19 should isolate for at least five full days and should wear a mask after leaving isolation. People who have been exposed to COVID-19 should wear a mask for at least 10 full days and get tested at least five full days after exposure. Public health officials believe that staying home when sick, washing hands, and improving ventilation can protect you, your family, and the community from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.