Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

If It Ain’t Broke…

The expression goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A couple of days ago, I received my 5th dose of Pfizer vaccine, this particular booster, the bivalent booster, now in place of the prior vaccine, considered the monovalent booster, no longer authorized as a booster dose. Here is the difference between the two vaccines. The older vaccine covered up to the Delta variant, not the Omicron, which the newer vaccine protects against and hopefully most of its variants.

Under the guidance, direction, and supervision of my doctors, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I followed the simple protocol of timed doses, as well as the appropriate bloodwork, prior to each dose, and after each dose, well, at least up until now.

It has been well established that my body does not maintain the vaccine protection, similar to other vaccines I struggle with keeping coverage. Of course, my first question to the pharmacist, “so when will I need to get another booster, especially since I know I will likely only have four months or so until I have no coverage anymore against Covid?” Her answer was that they were still trying to determine that. So, what can I do, if medicine cannot help me?

Simple, keep doing what I have been doing. Because as of this post, I have still not been infected with Covid. And no, I have not been hiding, “living in fear” as many like to call it. While some may have looked at any suggestions of precautions as political or conspiratorial (the loss of freedom and tyranny), I chose to look at it, “what can it hurt?” Even if opinions and suggestions changed with something we had never dealt with, which is how science works, like washing hands, something we should have been doing in the first place. Have you noticed how we no longer have a shortage of hand soap and sanitizer? Why is that? Perhaps it is not being done as efficiently or as often, just as before the pandemic. Of course there was staying home if you were sick, or avoiding people who were sick. And the mask… ooooooh that damn mask! At least in my case, and in the case of three others I know, none of whom have had Covid, the mask has provided that protection.

In his most recent comedy special, comedian Gabriel Iglesias (known to his fans as “Big Fluffy”), spoke of his experience with Covid, having four of the five extra risk factors. When he spoke of the masks, he mentioned that most of the complaints that he had heard, pertained to the “smell,” which launched Iglesias into a funny and truth-hurts bit. “Of course the mask smells. We have been trying to tell you that for years! You are just now breathing what we have been breathing in (referring to bad breath).” He then went on to joke that his masks smell like burritos and churizzos.

I am now one of the minority, probably way less than 1% who still wear a mask, 100% of the time indoors, and outdoors if the area is too densely populated. And now, we head into the colder months, everyone goes indoors, and northerners travel south, bringing their germs and sicknesses with them. So yes, just as 2020 and 2021, you have to expect another Covid surge.

Nothing pissed me off more, than being told I was “living in fear,” just because I followed recommendations to do my best to prevent infection. On top of my vulnerabilities and risks that I have in the first place, I had to have two major surgeries in 2021, one for a carotid artery (important to prevent a stroke), and the other, my 3rd heart surgery, as my breathing had become impacted that I could not go more than ten feet without struggling for air. A Covid diagnosis would have delayed either surgery, regardless of the complications to my cardiac system from Covid itself. In 2022, I wanted to see my daughter graduate, again, a Covid diagnosis would have prevented me from attending an event that meant as much to me as it did to her.

No, I was not living in fear. I was doing all that I could to prevent a tragic event, or an absence to one of the biggest days in the lives of my daughter and I. And here is my point, as I said, with an attitude of “what can it hurt?,” clearly, nothing. The steps I took, while doing things I wanted to do, just with precautions, got me to where I am today. My method, at least in my situation, worked.

Two days ago, I participated in a Zoom session with a panel created by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The panel had two doctors from Memorial Sloan Kettering, a doctor from the NIH, and of course the doctor heading up the study for the LLS, on Covid and how it affects those of us who have had blood cancers, which actually was considered by the CDC for its valuable information collected. While this meeting did pertain to those who have dealt with leukemias and lymphomas, some of the information that was given, is actually good information for all to pay attention to. I value the doctors that participated in this panel, as well as those that I personally interact with, and all are on the same page. This information is not coming from and television media or social media. The information is coming directly from the medical experts themselves.

Is it okay to go back to normal? Just as cancer survivors ask this same question, there is no normal, only a new normal. Can you go without wearing masks, hang out indoors in packed theaters and restaurants, etc.? Their unified answer was, sort of. The reminder came that the virus is still around, with newer variants (as many as 300 of them). It is up to each individual, and their own risks. But they also said, the colder months are when people have a higher tendency to get sick, and spend more time indoors. Add to that fact, this season, is probably the first time in two years, with a decline in flue and other illnesses, along with Covid, and most no longer wearing masks, there undoubtedly will be a three year spike. So, let your guard down? No. Live life, yes, but be smart and careful.

Can you get cancer from Covid or the vaccine? This question possibly came from all of the conspiracies floating around. Once again, the panel was in agreement, that it is highly unlikely, stopping just short of 100% certain, you cannot get cancer from Covid or the vaccine. The reasoning? If you have cancer diagnosed following either infection or vaccination for Covid, you had the cancer before either. Cancer will not just pop up like that. That said, there was the possibility that a weekend immune system from the infection, could allow a cancer to progress or develop more quickly.

Evushield is not a substitute for the vaccine. The doctors on the panel really appeared disheartened that they had to admit having patients who were still not vaccinated, that after two and a half years, people still were avoiding an initial dose, or boosters. Again, unified, the risk of dying from a severe infection of Covid for anyone having co-morbidities and not being vaccinated, has not changed to the benefits and the risks of rare side effects from the vaccination. Now that said, I have friends and fellow survivors who “cannot” get the vaccine, which is different than those who “will not” as was the case of my younger sister who died from Covid last year.

Paxlovid is a great treatment for early diagnosis of Covid. End of story.

Who is likely to have to deal with long haul syndrome? According to the panel, 50% of those dealing with long haul are unvaccinated. Symptoms of long haul likely to appear after four weeks and can include “brain fog”, cardiac, and pulmonary issues. If vaccinated, and having a shorter bout of Covid, you are less likely to have to deal with long haul syndrome.

Should spouses/significant others, family members, friends of someone who has higher risks with Covid, act as if they themselves were high risk also? Short answer, yes. And that was agreed by the entire panel. And here is why, politics, conspiracies, and false information thrown out the window. This falls on a simple premise, if you truly care about your loved one or friend, you do not want to be the one who brings and infects your loved one or friend. This is also known as care and consideration, nothing else, no other motivation or statement. Any sacrifice is not for you, it is for your friend or loved one. Need proof? Someone brought Covid into my sister’s house, as everyone in the house ended up with Covid (and yes, no one was vaccinated). And the shitty thing about that, our mother was put in the middle, of being there for her dying daughter with Covid, or exposing me to Covid just prior to my heart surgery. I truly believe a simple mask, combined with the vaccine would have prevented this tragedy for my mother.

Rapid test or PCR? The entire panel agreed, while the rapid test has its value, the more accurate will always be the PCR test for its accuracy, especially important in determining if still infected before exposing anyone else.

What good are antibody tests now? As of this posting, not very. Because the antibody testing covers up to the Delta variant, not the Omicron.

Why doesn’t the vaccine prevent infection? The vaccine was NEVER meant to prevent infection or spread. That is what most either do not understand or forget. If you do not get infected after being vaccinated, that is a benefit. The vaccine’s known purpose was to lessen the severity of the infection, that could often lead to death. I know more than a dozen people who died from Covid, all unvaccinated. Everyone else I know who has had Covid and vaccinated, are still here (side note – my sister’s husband and sons, unvaccinated, did survive their infections, but one is struggling with extreme long haul).

But why do we have to keep getting boosted and for how long? The one doctor from Sloan Kettering stated the misconception, that the vaccine is not working or not good enough. “It is not the vaccine, it is the virus constantly changing, like the flu.” There is a reason those of us who got one polio vaccine, only have one in our history. Because the polio virus never mutated. Unlike the flu, and now, Covid. The vaccines work, it is the viruses and their constant mutations, that will likely require a regularly scheduled shot for Covid, just as we do for the flu. With the newer bivalent, a timetable for boosters has not been set yet, but possible six month or annual boosters. A vaccine to prevent something is only going to happen before a virus gets to an epidemic or pandemic level. Something our country had no desire to prevent back in the beginning.

Again, this information did not come from television or social media. Drs. Mini Kamboj and Ariela Noy, both from Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dr. Adrian Weistman of the NIH, and Dr. Larry Saltzman of the LLS, are all highly reputable resources.

For those that cannot receive vaccines, again, that is different from those that flat our refuse, there are likely alternatives out there, if you are fortunate to find a reliable resource, and I am sure they are out there. I am not personally able to commit to this as an alternate option, but my mind is open to anything that would be deemed complimentary which means, at least getting the advice of your personal physician.

I hope this information is helpful. It has worked for me so far.

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