‘We’re at a Critical Moment’: Experts Weigh In on Measures to Curb COVID-19

COVID-19 vaccine sticker.

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Key Takeaways

  • Over the last few weeks, U.S. officials have begun rolling out additional measures to help curb COVID-19 cases and encourage vaccinations nationwide.
  • Experts say mandates work to get more people vaccinated and help prevent outbreaks.
  • Breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are milder than infections in unvaccinated people.

Over the last few weeks, U.S. officials have begun rolling out additional measures to help curb COVID-19 cases and encourage vaccinations nationwide. From corporate vaccination mandates to booster shots for those at risk, the U.S. is trying everything to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Experts at a recent John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health briefing weighed on the impact some of these measures may have in the coming weeks.

“We're at this critical moment," Daniel Salmon, PhD, professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said at the briefing. "We need to get this right. We have the tools, and we need to effectively use those tools."

Do You Need a Booster Shot?

The three vaccines currently available in the United States against COVID-19 are safe and effective, even against the Delta variance of the virus, according to Anna P. Durbin, MD, professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Many studies have found that the vaccines provide 90% to 95% protection against hospitalization, even as variants circulate, she said.

“I’m not sure that a Delta-specific vaccine will be necessary," she said. "We know that the current vaccine works very well against the Delta variant.”

A panel at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just recommended booster shots for people over age 65 or who are at high risk due to other health conditions. This decision arrives after the Biden administration made booster shots for the general public a key part of their COVID-19 strategy.

But the ethical implications of recommending booster shots in the United States while vaccines are in short supply elsewhere in the world must be considered, Durbin noted.

“I don't think we can put equity issues aside, particularly during a global pandemic because we will not stop COVID from coming into the United States unless we stop COVID around the world," Durbin said.

What This Means For You

Vaccination is still the best way to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. If you haven't been vaccinated, you can find an appointment near you here.

Vaccine Mandates Work

President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that his administration would also require vaccination or regular testing for COVID-19 for federal employees and all companies with more than 100 employees.

Experts emphasize that this type of vaccine mandate isn't a new idea.

“We have a long history of school vaccine mandates that have been very effective in controlling outbreaks and raising vaccine coverage,” Salmon said. “We see them in colleges and universities.”

“The Biden Administration’s mandate [for vaccination] will hopefully help more people get vaccinated,” Durbin added.

Roughly one-quarter of the United States population does not want to get vaccinated, Salmon noted. The issue of vaccination has become political and polarizing, which could have an effect on both anti-COVID programs and other areas of public health, he said.

“We run the risk of further polarizing people, and the potential that it could adversely impact other vaccine programs such as childhood and adolescent vaccine programs that have worked really well," Durbin added.

However, vaccine mandates have been effective in the past and have been supported by the Supreme Court, Salmon said.

Is There Legal Precedent for Mandates?

In 1905, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the authority of states to enforce mandates for vaccinations. The case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, stemmed from the refusal of a man named Henning Jacobson to obey a vaccination mandate in the city of Cambridge, Mass., during an outbreak of smallpox in 1902. The Jacobson case has also been cited in upholding requirements for face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is also likely more safety data available on these vaccines than on any other vaccine currently used, Durbin noted. “We have hundreds of millions of people who have received these vaccines,” she said. “We can say these vaccines are incredibly safe.”

Breakthrough Infections and Long COVID

Some vaccinated people are experiencing breakthrough infections despite being vaccinated.

“These infections are, for the most part, mild to moderate in severity,” Durbin said. “This means you may have a fever, feel achy, or feel tired, but you won't develop shortness of breath or need to go to the hospital or end up on a ventilator.”

If You Had COVID-19, Should You Still Get Vaccinated?

People who have had COVID-19, and who therefore may have some natural immunity, should still get vaccinated. “We know that you can be reinfected after natural COVID infection," Durbin said. "And we know that those people who have had COVID and not been vaccinated are about two and a half times more likely to be reinfected."

Experiencing lingering side effects, or long COVID, is unlikely to occur with breakthrough infections, Durbin said.

“I say that because in the cases that we're seeing in breakthrough infections we're not seeing as many of the severe or long-term symptoms that we saw in original natural infection," Durbin said. "If you do have a breakthrough infection, you tend to shed the virus or have the virus in your system for a shorter period of time.”

Based on what is known about the differences between COVID-19 in vaccinated and unvaccinated people, “I would say that it can happen but it's probably less common than with a natural COVID infection in the unvaccinated,” she added.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Mariner WK, et al. Jacobson v Massachusetts: it's not your great-great-grandfather's public health law. Am J Public Health. 2005;95(4):581-590. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.055160

By Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette has over 30 years' experience writing about health and medicine. She is the former managing editor of Drug Topics magazine.