University students, many of whom sacrificed two years of their best lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now making up for lost time. The back-to-school program adopted by Western University in London, Ont., which includes mandated motivational photos and mandatory face coverings, comes from a good place, but it doesn’t match the reality we live in. These measures are concerning because there is the possibility of harm with only small benefits.
Vaccines are the single most important intervention for this epidemic. With the rise of the Omicron variant, however, while the protection against severe diseases is still present, the protection against infection is greatly reduced.
This is evident from data from United Kingdom, Israel again Singapore, where even after a booster, there is a limited window of two to five months in which the vaccine provides some protection against infection. Those who have infectious diseases after vaccination have them dose of the same virus in the unvaccinated population, making transmission likely to continue, regardless of the number of vaccines received.
Adding to this is that the emergence of Omicron has left a large percentage of people with post-infection immunity, regardless of their vaccination status. In Canada, at least 60 percent of adults are young previously contracted a virus (many during Omicron waves).
A learn in Qatar showed that with Omicron, previous infection and vaccination provide the same protection. Therefore, simply being approved for the shot does not account for the fact that some may have full protection without three doses.
In addition, those with recent infections may be forced to take the vaccine early National Immunization Advisory Committee the six-month recommendation, which tries to balance the benefits of waiting to get a booster after infection.
Although vaccines provide protection against severe disease, and three doses provide more protection than two, severe disease in itself cannot be a reason for approval, given that the level of risk varies depending on several factors, including age and co-morbidities.
In the last 120 days in Ontario, the admission rate for unvaccinated people 18-29 year olds it is still under coverage and increased in the 50-59 age group. This decreases further with vaccination, but the difference between two doses and three doses is very small in young and healthy people, and the addition of natural infection makes the difference even smaller.
In view of the above, we must consider the damage of that policy. Vaccines remain safe, but mRNA vaccines have a known risk of myocarditis. Although this remains rare, the most vulnerable group are young men between the ages of 18 and 24, who are overrepresented in universities. Although most cases of myocarditis are mild and resolve on their own, the increased risk of a person with a previous infection and two vaccinations may not be appropriate.
Precepts may also push people away from engaging in good behavior. Communicating with individuals and supporting them in the decision to receive the next dose of vaccine is a more sustainable strategy than mandating vaccines, as distrust of the authorities it may be detrimental to further efforts.
It is already the case that many minority and low-income communities across Ontario have seen the bottom vaccination rates and boosters among adults. The implications of this policy mandate may limit and disrupt post-secondary education among already marginalized communities. Many of these people come from wealthy communities deep distrust of medicineand mandated vaccination pushes them even further.
Masking provides a layer of protection that people can use to further reduce their risk of exposure. However, in the case of a lack of public mask authority, campus authority may not provide significant benefits. Students are not only in class. They live, eat, play, trust, work, travel and exercise together, in places where masks are not normally worn.
Most of the risk of acquiring the virus comes from those other settings, therefore, the effect of the mask mandate in the classroom alone may be limited in preventing transmission. Students and faculty should be encouraged to use high-quality masks to protect each individual and not face discrimination for their choices. But this is different than endorsing masks.
These are theoretical arguments, but the reality has been seen in other universities. While masks and vaccination prescriptions may have helped limit the spread of COVID-19 at Cornell until 2021, the emergence of the Omicron variant has changed things dramatically. A recent research found that the impact of Cornell’s infection control measures was minimal after the Omicron outbreak, with large-scale transmissions on campus mirroring what was happening throughout the community.
Instead, schools should use the university’s information as a forum for non-judgmental discussions about vaccination. They should make testing available and encourage people to get tested, cover their faces and stay home when they are sick. They should support students when they are sick, so that isolation is not a burden. And they should improve the air quality of campus buildings to reduce transmission.
But the most important thing in all of this is to make sure that the students get the knowledge that they have given for two years to protect the whole society, while realizing that the epidemic has changed a lot. It makes no sense to deny students higher education based on a medical decision that has little benefit.
There are things that will improve our situation until the autumn: making sure that our most vulnerable people are properly immunised; improving health care capacity and addressing workforce challenges; providing prompt and appropriate access to treatment for those at high risk who are diagnosed with the virus; and staying at home when you are sick.
But the booster mandate at Western University will not vaccinate the vulnerable, provide antivirals to the immunocompromised or improve health care capacity. Let’s focus on working together on the things that matter, rather than increasing division and harm.
The National Post
Dr. Zain Chagla is an infectious disease physician and associate professor at McMaster University.
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