March 2021 COVID Update
Despite the snow that fell over the weekend, spring has arrived, or at least the first warm days that forecast spring. As we crossed the equinox we are looking forward after a long and difficult year.
We transported our first COVID-19 patient on March 17, 2020 and Governor Mills issued the first state of emergency order, including a stay at home order, one year ago next week. While we have flattened the curve and the vaccine clinics are in full tilt across the state with nearly 30% of the population having received at least a first dose, we must remain vigilant.
Our daily case rate and hospitalizations have come down dramatically over the past three months but we have plateaued at a rate of around 206 new cases a day. Unfortunately, this is still far in excess of the 20-25 new cases last August and 40-50 cases a day in October. More importantly the new case rate is going up, with a 24% increase in the last week. We also have a small but growing number of two of the new worrisome COVID variants. A year on, LifeFlight is still transporting COVID positive or presumed patients each day. The challenge continues.
The good news is we continue to reduce hospitalizations and deaths from COVID, but to have the summer we missed last year, we need to double down and stop transmission. There are only two ways to accomplish this task: 1) vaccines and 2) face masks and physical distance until people get vaccinated. While the challenge over the past few months has been vaccine availability, we have ramped up delivery across the state and Maine has among the highest rates of vaccination with 88% of what has been delivered administered. Our next challenge will be vaccine hesitancy.
We shared some early signals from Israel in our last update (you can find it here) and research continues in full tilt around the globe. Below is a summary of the science we are following. You will also find links to these studies at the end of this update and note that we add new papers to our website COVID portal on a regular basis.
Are the vaccines safe? The answer is definitively yes. The Phase 1-3 trials for each vaccine range on average from around 30,000 to 70,000 test patients. We have now delivered one hundred million doses of vaccine and we are not seeing any rate of serious side effects that would call into question the benefits versus risks of the vaccine.
Do the vaccines work? The early science in the Phase 3 trials was clear. All of the vaccines currently in the US delivery system prevent illness with a high rate of efficacy even after a single dose. More importantly the continued evidence shows the vaccines are preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death at nearly 100% rates of effectiveness.
Do the vaccines stop transmission? This is where we are watching the new signals closely. There is not enough time lapse in the Phase 1-3 trials to determine if the vaccines also prevent asymptomatic transmission. The emerging evidence from Israel, Scotland, and now new studies from Cambridge in the UK and Harvard demonstrate this most essential piece of the vaccine puzzle. A single dose of the Moderna vaccine is estimated to reduce transmission by 61% in the Harvard studyi. The Cambridge studyii found a 4 fold decrease in reduction in virus acquisition and the Israeli studiesiii iv noted an 89.4% reduction in asymptomatic transmission which has been the unique challenge of COVID. (Links to the full papers below)
So, as we reach forward and imagine summer the way it should be, we have a lot of work to do:
If you have not already done so, please get vaccinated as soon as you have the opportunity.
Until we have near universal vaccination we will need to continue to practice the 4 W’s.
Please always wear a mask when in public especially indoors. Remember outdoors is safer and, at the end of a long winter, outdoors is good for the soul.
Watch your distance, wash your hands, and watch your symptoms as well.
Encourage everyone you know to accomplish the above—this is a big challenge. We are all tired of the virus.
Think about travel carefully and then travel carefully. You can travel safely but think about and manage the risks.
We are almost there but we are in a race with the more infectious and virulent variants. The next 8-12 weeks are crucial for all of us in order to get our lives back.
And, do know, while all of this has been going on LifeFlight has been busy. We have many updates to share beginning with a virtual celebration of our new aircraft scheduled for Thursday, April 15th at 5pm. If you are interested in learning more about the event, please contact the Foundation at 230-7092 or email Renee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just as the pandemic started, we initiated a new multi-year national demonstration project with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to link all of our hospitals with helicopter instrument flight routes. LifeFlight Foundation Trustee David Berez spent the day with us as the FAA checked the first low level precision instrument flight route in the country. The first one joined Bangor and Bar Harbor and six more routes are getting ready for testing. Check out David’s amazing video to learn more about the project.
We have made it this far on the journey. It has been painful and tragic for so many Mainers, and people across the country and world, who have lost loved ones often without being able to hold a hand or say a proper farewell. We can end the pandemic and we can find the summer light at the end of this long dark tunnel. We can truly re-open Maine the way it can be if we all continue to work together to keep ourselves, our families, and everyone around us healthy and well.
Hold on, be strong, stay safe. We are nearly there.
On behalf of the LifeFlight team,
Thomas Judge, Paramedic
Norm Dinerman, MD, FACEP
i Interpreting vaccine efficacy trial results for infection and transmission (Lipsitch M, Kahn R, Harvard Chan School/ medRxiv BMJ Feb 2021)
ii Effectiveness of BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine against infection and COVID-19 vaccine coverage in healthcare workers in England, multicentre prospective cohort study (the SIREN study Cambridge UK; Hall V, Foukes S, et. al. The Lancet Feb 2021)
iii BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine in a Nationwide Mass Vaccination Setting (Dagen N, Barda N, et. al. New England Journal of Medicine Feb 2021)
iv Covid-19: Pfizer BioNTech vaccine reduced cases by 94% in Israel (Commentary Wise, J in BMJ Feb 2021)