Metrics associated with the COVID-19 pandemic continue to move in the right direction across Kentucky. Positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining. To continue in this direction, Kentuckians must remain vigilant in following health strategies that offer protection, especially in high-risk areas.
The three key ways, proven effective, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants are vaccination, facemasks and social distancing.
The Kentucky Academy of Science (KAS) has concerns that legislation proposed in the Kentucky General Assembly might lower state’s guard and expose more Kentuckians to sickness and death, especially if a more deadly COVID-19 variant emerges. HB21, HB 28, HB 51, HB 52, HB 57, HB 84, HB 99, HB 112, and SB 351 are among the bills that could impede our Commonwealth’s ability to defend against COVID-19.
Immunization using vaccines is a medically-proven method of reducing the risk of disease in a population. Research has helped ensure that vaccines are not only effective but safe, particularly for children who are vulnerable to disease. Vaccines are so safe that public schools have required basic vaccinations for their students for decades, and this has proven effective in keeping infectious diseases under control, such as measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and hepatitis. The polio vaccine is one of the most successful examples of vaccines that have kept children from acquiring this disease at a young age.
The spread of COVID-19 is steadily decreasing with increasing vaccinations, however, with variants of COVID-19 emerging and peaks observed during certain times of the year, discretion to implement preventive measures such as vaccination and facemasks will help in diminishing occurrence of these peaks, and eventually rare occurrence of this infection and its severity.
With declining COVID-19 rates, a number of educational institutions across the state have already removed mask mandates. School boards should not be prohibited from revisiting their decisions on mask policies and considering science and health data if COVID-19 cases spike in the future. As long as the SARS-CoV2 virus is circulating, mask mandates remain an excellent safety measure for vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike.
Many of the bills proposed in the General Assembly that would weaken Kentucky’s defense against COVID-19 have not made significant movements through the legislative process at this time. We urge legislators not to fast-track potentially risky measures through the process in the final days of the General Assembly’s 2022 session without a proper chance for public input.
We recommend that the health and safety of Kentuckians be protected by redirecting attention to relieving vaccination and facemask concerns through educational and awareness campaigns, possibly with the inclusion of testimonies from respected medical, scientific, and religious leaders.
A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report posted by CDC compiles data on incidence and deaths of fully vaccinated (with and without boosters) and unvaccinated individuals from April 4 to December 24,2021. In the figure below, it is clear that the unvaccinated population is significantly more infected and suffers from COVID-19 and its variants more extensively.
Figure A&B: The above figure shows incidence cases of COVID per 100,000 people. The difference in the number of cases between unvaccinated and vaccinated is significantly higher. Even as incidence in the vaccinated population increased due to the variant Omicron, hospitalization remained significantly lower in the vaccinated population. This indicates that vaccination is helping the individuals to develop certain immunity against the severity of COVID-19. Over time, vaccination will improve resistance to this virus and decrease the incidence. With decrease in incidence of the virus and increased vaccinated population, the interference of COVID-19 in the life of individuals will also diminish.
After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the data on vaccination shows potential of effective reduction in COVID-19 cases and severity of infections in hospitalization among the vaccinated. Vaccination and booster doses of COVID are safe and have little known side effects compared to severe and long- term impairments and side effects caused by the COVID-19 virus itself. A study published in Nature on March 7, 2022 found that even mild COVID cases are associated with subtle tissue damage and accelerated losses in brain regions related to smell and there is small loss of brain volume, thus is associated with cognitive function deficit. The strength of this study is that it is performed before and after brain scans and will be followed up with more scans in the next few years to study how long-term this degenerative effect is.