Preparing for the Holiday Season
Errol Buntuyan, M.D.
Our delta variant surge of COVID is over. We have felt this wave of illness run through our Maui community. Many of our friends and family were exposed and infected. Many were extremely ill and we have lost loved ones during this last spike of infections. We managed to pull together and stayed strong through it all. Another holiday season in a pandemic is upon us once again. Many gatherings will take place in the next few months as we travel off island or host our mainland visitors.
The good news is during this surge, our Maui numbers of completed vaccinations have increased to 65 percent with up to 75 percent receiving at least one dose. Last year our COVID safety precautions really helped in preventing the spread of almost all the other respiratory viral infections like the common cold and influenza. November usually signals the start of the normal cough, congestion and flu season. This season, we should continue to practice the safety measures of masking, physical distancing, covering coughs and staying home if feeling sick to keep viral symptoms and spread at a minimum.
The campaign for COVID vaccination continues. Vaccination is still the best way to prevent serious hospitalization and death from COVID. This is especially true for the elderly over 60 years old and for those with other health problems like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and lung problems.
Booster recommendations have started for all three vaccines (J&J, Pfizer and Moderna). The criteria to get a booster shot is very inclusive with many people qualifying to receive the booster. You could mix and match these vaccines, and supply is readily available at local medical clinics, pharmacies and various vaccination events throughout Maui. (See the end of this article)
Children over the age of five years old through eleven are now eligible to get the Pfizer vaccination series. The vaccine was found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in this age range. The vaccine’s safety was studied in approximately 3,100 children age five through eleven who received the immunization and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for children five through 11 years of age is administered as a two-dose primary series, three weeks apart, but is a lower dose (10 micrograms) than that used for individuals 12 years of age and older (30 micrograms).
In the U.S., COVID-19 cases in children five through 11 years of age make up 39 percent of cases in individuals younger than 18 years of age. According to the CDC, approximately 8,300 COVID-19 cases in children five through 11 years of age resulted in hospitalization. As of October 17, 691 deaths from COVID-19 were reported in the U.S. in individuals less than 18 years of age, with 146 deaths in the five through 11 years age group.
Thankfully, the majority of the COVID cases for keiki on Maui remain mild to moderate with cold and flu like symptoms. It still is hard, however, to see any of our children sick at home with these symptoms. Getting our keiki vaccinated will prevent them from coming down with COVID illness and further help protect our community from the spread of this virus as the Winter season approaches.
As we move to the next phase of this COVID pandemic, the bottom line is to know your risks and options. It seems clear COVID will be with us for many years to come. Many of us were exposed and more will have a run in with this virus in the future. We hope those that do become infected with COVID will only exhibit mild or moderate symptoms. The biggest risk factors, however, for getting really sick, hospitalized and dying from COVID are those that are unvaccinated, those that are older and those with other medical conditions.
When people in these high-risk groups are infected with COVID or exposed, we do have monoclonal antibody treatment to help boost the immune system and fight off worsening symptoms. Receiving monoclonal antibody works best at the early stages of the infection and should start no more than ten days of exposure or infection. There may soon be an oral pill approved and available to also reduce the symptoms of COVID infection if taken early upon diagnosis.
When we look at our journey as a community on Maui over the last 20 months, it is quite amazing to see how we have survived the pandemic thus far. We followed the rules of lock down, stayed distant from gatherings, wore masks and practiced hand hygiene. We were vaccinated when we could, did not report to work, school or go out when we felt sick with symptoms, and continue to remain vigilant with taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID.
We must remain just as strong because the Winter season is upon us. We will depend on this continued vigilance to help reduce the spread of not just COVID but all seasonal viral illnesses. More developments with COVID vaccines, boosters, mandates, testing, treatment protocols and easing of restrictions are certainly on the horizon. Know your risks and explore your options. Please reach out to your licensed medical health care professionals if you have any questions about COVID vaccines and treatments.
With Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years on the way we have a much better outlook than we did last year. Thank you for those who have gotten the COVID vaccines and the healthcare teams and volunteers that have been so crucial to distributing them. It is utterly amazing how we have stepped up to protect each other and those at risk for severe disease. Without those who received the COVID vaccine, our Maui would have suffered much more illness, suffering and death. With our collective ongoing efforts, we have hope for a 2022 that looks much closer to how our lives used to be before the pandemic.
Errol Buntuyan, M.D. is a Family Medicine Practitioner and the Physician in Charge of Maui Primary Care at Kaiser Permanente. Born in Quezon City and raised in Southern California, he has been practicing medicine on Maui since 2007. Dr. Buntuyan promotes whole food, plant based nutrition, regular physical activity, stress mindfulness and sleep hygiene as keys to optimum health and wellness. He enjoys cooking, playing tennis and travel.