Although the country has began to turn the page for the better and 48% of the population has been fully vaccinated, there are yet still many challenges that lie ahead, such as how long COVID-19 will be around after the pandemic is over, how to deal with the unvaccinated population, the short- and long-term mental health implications from the pandemic on communities and more. So, we turned to the “Fit Doc,” Board Certified Family Medicine Physician, public speaker, Certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and best-selling author Dr. Michele C. Reed for answers to these and other pressing questions. One thing rings true and that is COVID-19 has forever changed the way we all think about our health, wellness, and safety.
Can you talk a little about vaccine confidence?
Vaccine confidence has definitely improved since last year. Initially, there was a concern that the COVID-19 vaccines were produced too quickly with new technology and that doctors in the community did not have access to the vaccines, but hospitals and pharmacies were distribution points. From the community to providers, everyone needed to be on the same page to have people willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. When access is a problem, the community is more likely to not have access and we saw people wanting to get vaccinated but not having access to the internet to make an appointment or if they did have internet people were having problems registering for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Education about the vaccine did boost vaccine confidence but also ease of access. As community members could get the vaccine in their apartment building or community center without having to go online and now having same day access, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is no longer like getting a “golden ticket.”
Speaking of vaccine confidence, please tell us about your partnership with Advil.
I am very excited to be a part of Advil’s #AfterMyShot campaign as we work to instill vaccine confidence across the country by providing up to date information and solutions for post-shot side effects. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and designed to help protect you from getting COVID-19. After receiving your vaccination, it is normal to have some side effects, which means that your body is building protection. Advil is a trusted recovery aid to relieve side effects you may experience after the COVID-19 vaccination. Per the CDC, if you received a two-shot vaccine, such as Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, side effects after your second shot may be more intense than the ones you experienced after your first shot. These side effects are signs that your body is building protection against the virus and should go away within a few days. Advil is indicated to treat minor aches and pains and reduce fever. Advil is indicated to treat symptoms you are already experiencing and is not intended for preemptive pain relief.
How can you build vaccine confidence and dispel the myths among those who are still reluctant to get the shot?
As a primary care physician, it is my duty to help my patients to become their own advocates. Everyone has felt the impact of COVID-19 but whether they allow that to change them is what I start with as I discuss vaccine confidence. When I had to close my practice for a few weeks in the beginning of the pandemic because most of my staff became ill with COVID-19, I felt so helpless. My belief in God led me to share my story about what it was like from being sick to the recovery from COVID-19. Vaccine confidence starts with being authentic about my personal experience and why other people should be vaccinated to not only prevent themselves from being sick but even more importantly to prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus to the most vulnerable populations – the very young and our elders.
The message needs to come from trusted individuals in the community about what are the myths and why they are myths. It is important that the message is not a one-time message but requires repetition and the ability to be able to answer the questions that people may have.
What dangers, if any does the delta variant (and others) pose to those who are vaccinated, and what can the vaccinated do to continue to keep themselves safe?
The unvaccinated population is affected more so from the delta variant than the vaccinated population. Now that many of the fifty states are no longer under a state of emergency, it is very important that we encourage everyone we know to be vaccinated. Viruses mutate the longer they are around so the more people we can get vaccinated will help to decrease the virus from mutating each time a person is ill with COVID-19. Everyone who is not vaccinated needs to realize that if they do not want to protect themselves, how about protecting those who are not able to be vaccinated yet.
With so much confusion surrounding the current CDC guidelines and those guidelines of individual states, how does one know which to follow?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many lessons and one of them is that we need to learn how to pivot and realize that there is still a huge grey area as far as guidelines. As I said earlier, physicians are trusted sources of information so I encourage patients to speak with their doctors and follow their state’s health department for guidelines which should be similar to the CDC guidelines.
Since most states have lifted their Covid restrictions, what clear advice can you provide on vaccinated people spending time with their unvaccinated family members, friends, loved ones, etc.?
I am encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to speak to their physicians about their concerns and questions. We need to encourage our family and friends to get vaccinated and help them to make an educated decision. We all should wear masks, especially when around people and are not sure of their vaccination status to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
How long do you think COVID might be around after the pandemic is over?
I believe that COVID-19 is not going away and will continue to be around but hopefully in the next 2 – 3 years it should not be as severe as it was in 2019 to now. In the meantime, I encourage patients to wear their masks even if they are vaccinated.
What are your thoughts on why so many young people are now being affected by Covid whereas in the beginning of the pandemic they weren’t so much?
More young people are being affected by COVID-19 now because of several reasons. Initially, everyone was on a strict lockdown and young people were not going to school or work, so they were not hanging with their peers. As the pandemic progressed, we started seeing the people above the age of 40 years being stricken at a higher rate to a more serious degree. Young people started to socialize more with each other as when many of them did get diagnosed with COVID-19 they were asymptomatic or with very minor symptoms. Many people in this age group have not been vaccinated and are practicing a wait and see attitude.
There have been reports on young people having heart issues following the Covid vaccine shot. What are your thoughts and advice on this?
Recently, the FDA issued a statement warning regarding both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. It was found that in teen boys and young adult men there is an increased risk of inflammation of the heart – myocarditis and pericarditis. The symptoms of chest pain usually resolve in one to two weeks and the risk of inflammation of the heart from COVID-19 is higher than the actual vaccine.
Both of my 17-year-old sons have been vaccinated and I will continue to encourage young people to get vaccinated. I am encouraging young people who are vaccinated to talk to their peers regarding the vaccination process.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people’s mental health, particularly in communities of color. What are the short- and long-term implications?
Mental health in communities of color has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession. Many essential workers were people of color who did not have the option of working from home due to the type of work that they did which further exacerbated mental health concerns. Some people worked more hours a day which led to increased stress and then would have to go home and take care of their family. In some cases, if they were infected with COVD-19, they would have to recover not at home but at a hotel that the local or state health department would cover the cost for. In some cases, witnessing death would further heighten symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Until recently, in communities of color discussing anxiety, depression or any type of mental health problems with a professional was considered a sign of weakness. Now that more people are realizing the importance of mental health therapy, many mental health care workers have limited availability and may not be taking health insurance which is further complicating access to counseling.
Many children in communities of color are suffering due to remote learning, cyber bullying, and life during a pandemic. Children who may have had services for learning differences might be having decreased services or some children are not even diagnosed.
The mental health of communities of color is struggling and we really need to be able to service all people better with the support that is needed.