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Rumor has it

By Karen Kier, Pharmacist on behalf of the ONU HealthWise team

Rumor Has It was a 2005 film directed by Rob Reiner and starred Jennifer Aniston, Shirley MacLaine, and Kevin Costner. The movie scored well in the box office but was not a fan favorite at 2.8 stars with a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In contrast, Adele won 15 Grammy awards with her hit song Rumour Has It released in 2011. Some of her lyrics strike home as we deal with the misinformation surrounding COVID-19.  Lyrics such as “bless your soul, you got your head in the clouds” and “people say crazy things”.  

The omicron variant dominates in the United States with 99.9% of new cases being reported as of January 22, 2022.  Based on this variant, it is important to judge the new science relating to omicron.  Many are still quoting evidence based on the delta variant, which is no longer holding true for omicron. Senator Rand Paul on January 21, 2022 was quoted on Fox News saying, “you may not want it, and people unfortunately still die from it. But get it and survive, it is giving profound immunity and then giving an immunity better than the vaccine, because the disease is now evading the vaccine for the most part.”  

There are so many things to address with this statement.  I am concerned about a statement that encourages people to get the infection realizing the risk is dying from COVID-19, which is acknowledged in the quote. The CDC studies do provide evidence that getting a COVID-19 infection confers some protection as long as the variant is genetically similar. If an individual had the alpha or delta variants, then there is no natural immunity to the omicron variant. In the United States, with omicron spreading rapidly and a new omicron subvariant BA.2, the natural protection is only for omicron. The studies that Rand Paul refers to in his quote were specifically evaluating the delta variant and not omicron. Two very different variants and outcomes. This is why COVID-19 reinfection is possible even with natural immunity. Studies vary widely on how long natural immunity lasts for some strains of SARS-CoV-2.  Immunity declines over 90 days to six months but some can maintain antibodies for a longer period of time. Evidence definitely does not support the statement that natural immunity is better than the vaccine. The latest evidence with omicron indicates that neither natural immunity nor two doses of the mRNA vaccine are likely to stop it.  

Some significant science has been published in the medical journals in the last few weeks that addresses some of the rumors circulating about COVID-19.  Three studies published in January regarding the omicron variant provide evidence that booster vaccine doses provide protection against omicron.  Researchers from the Ragon Institute published a study in the journal Cell on December 23, 2021 that evaluated 200 vaccine recipients and found that those with a mRNA booster had potent neutralizing antibodies against omicron.  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found lower infection rates with the omicron variant among those vaccinated and boosted compared with the unvaccinated or those with only two doses of vaccine.  A CDC study evaluating vaccine effectiveness from ten states, where omicron was the predominant variant, found 90% response 14 days after the third dose.  A similar study in New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that three doses of a mRNA vaccine or those with the omicron variant infection who then were vaccinated had substantial neutralizing antibodies.  Hybrid immunity is the term used when an individual has antibodies from a COVID-19 infection and antibodies from the vaccine.  As seen with the NEJM study, hybrid immunity can provide protection.  

Studies on long COVID-19 in the last month are the most concerning with Rand Paul’s “get it and survive”. It is estimated that about 43% of survivors will get long COVID-19 also known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC).  Long COVID-19 can be devastating and significantly alter one’s quality of life, which is not taken into consideration with his statement.  Organ damage to the lungs and brain are two of the most concerning effects.  A study in Cell found four risk factors. Those with type 2 diabetes are at high risk for continued symptoms.  Some people will develop autoantibodies that start attacking their own body and cause damage.  Other data shows individuals who do not have a good initial antibody response when they get infected with SARS-CoV-2 are more likely to have PASC.  In addition, those with a reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus are at higher risk.  Symptoms from a COVID-19 infection can last for months to years.  

The risk of dying or surviving with long COVID-19 is a sad way to promote prevention and continued health. COVID-19 vaccines provide a level of protection that reduces these risks.  

Feel free to call the ONU HealthWise Pharmacy for the science on COVID-19. ONU HealthWise is offering COVID-19 and flu vaccines Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 6 pm. Call the pharmacy for an appointment for other time slots. The ONU HealthWise pharmacy offers Moderna, Pfizer, Janssen and flu shots and high-dose flu vaccines. Pediatric Pfizer vaccines (5 to 11-years) are available by appointment through the state Vaccine Management Solution (VMS) system.  Call the pharmacy at 419-772-3784 to get more information.