'The vaccine is our most powerful tool,' nurse stresses amid Delta variant surge

The Delta variant has led to a massive surge in coronavirus cases across the country this summer, with many hospitals finding themselves overwhelmed by the number of COVID-positive patients — including more younger adults and children as compared to previously.

While much of the surge is out of any one person's control, there is one course of action that’s proven to make a significant difference, according to one nurse: getting vaccinated.

“In the absence of a vaccine that's approved for kids and widespread vaccination, it's important for us to use all other tools we have available to us to stop the spread, especially with the Delta variant, which we know is far more contagious and is potentially more dangerous to kids as well,” Kristen Choi, a registered nurse and assistant professor at UCLA School of Nursing, said on Yahoo Finance Live recently (video above).

“So taking any steps we can — that's masks, distancing, having things happen outside, all things that we know can prevent the spread of the virus — are important steps for us to take,” she continued. “And again, the vaccine is our most powerful tool.”

About 52.6% of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, and 61.9% have received at least one dose. (Children under 12 are not yet able to receive vaccinations.)

“Most experts have estimated that we need to get closer to 70, 80” percent in order to reach herd immunity,” Choi said. “Some people have even said as high as 90% to really be able to effectively stop the spread of the virus. The vaccination rates are still a major challenge. And it's important that as we think about things like booster shots and such that we continue to reach out to those groups that are unvaccinated.”

Vaccines from Pfizer (PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) are very effective in preventing cases of serious illness and death. At the same time, transmission among unvaccinated populations seems to occur at a much higher rate as the Delta variant circulates in the U.S.

Choi added that “we do hope to see approval of the vaccine for kids younger than age 12 later this fall or winter.”

'Masks are a really important line of defense' against the Delta variant

Those under the age of 12 are vulnerable to the Delta variant of the virus, which has contributed to the recent rise in cases and hospitalizations, especially as many children go back to school.

“We know that kids under the age of 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated,” Choi said. “And while we're still waiting for approval on those vaccines, masks are a really important line of defense for kids to prevent spread of the coronavirus.”

School mask mandates vary across the country. Some governors have outright banned them in their states, though a judge did overturn the ban in Florida on the grounds that Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his gubernatorial authority. 

“Our situation here in California is a bit different,” Choi said. “LAUSD and other school districts in California have embraced masks and are requiring them for many teachers and students. Schools in California, including LAUSD, also have some of the most ambitious COVID testing programs in the country, requiring all students, faculty, and staff to be tested every week for the coronavirus. And these mask issues as they relate to school are really important.”

Masks have become a critical part of mitigating the spread of the virus, especially among populations that are ineligible for vaccination. A recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that back in May, an outbreak of 27 COVID-19 cases, with 81% experiencing symptoms, emerged after a symptomatic and unvaccinated teacher went unmasked around her students, most of whom were ineligible to be vaccinated at the time. 

Some governors have taken measures a step further by requiring all school employees in their states to be fully vaccinated, including Oregon, Washington, California, and New Jersey.

“We're… seeing a lot more movement on vaccine mandates from states, from hospitals, and from other private employers that are mandating the vaccine for their workers,” Choi said. “And I think those kinds of things will help us get that vaccination rate up and make sure that people are protected.”

'The conversation needs to be really individualized'

Despite data showing that unvaccinated individuals are significantly more impacted by COVID-19 than their vaccinated counterparts, many of those individuals are still adamant about not getting vaccinated.

Much of this stems from misinformation: Some groups (particularly online) have spread false allegations about the vaccine, stating that it causes infertility or even contains a microchip. There are also some who believe that getting vaccinated is a personal choice and won’t jeopardize their civil liberties.

According to Choi, there is not a one-size-fits-all method to approaching these individuals.

“That interpersonal conversation is extremely challenging,” she said. “I've done some research with the doctors and nurses on the topic of talking to patients who might be vaccine hesitant. And they universally say that when people have a really deep-seated personal belief or fear of vaccines, that those beliefs are very, very difficult to change. And there's not really any one standardized way of talking to these people.”

“Rather what I see most people recommend is that the conversation needs to be really individualized and tailored,” Choi explained. “It's important for doctors and nurses, pharmacists, anyone who might be having these conversations with patients and with the public to address people's specific concerns to address their specific fears and really talk to them about [how] it relates to them as an individual. And that tailored messaging can be really effective for people who might be on the fence.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at [email protected]


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