Column: With COVID as an unwanted houseguest, I’m thankful for vaccines and frustrated with society

May 17, 2022 8:30 am

This array of the tests and treatments – both prescription and over-the-counter – was used by the Wirestone family during their time with COVID-19 last week. | Clay Wirestone / States Newsroom

After two years and two months, COVID-19 finally arrived for my family.

That meant my days were consumed with resting, checking temperatures, sneezing, coughing, ordering delivery and taking rapid tests. I wouldn’t recommend it as a family getaway package. (I suppose the ordering delivery part was OK.) Yet our experience showed how far treatments have come for the virus, and showed how important all of those precautionary measures of the last two years were.

Indeed, my biggest realization was simply how lucky we turned out to be. Think back to March and April 2020. Back then, we didn’t know much about how the virus spread or who was at risk. Doctors were improvising treatments. YouTube videos showed worried families how to disinfect their groceries at home.

Think back to January and February 2021. We finally had vaccines, but they were in short supply as another wave crested through the population. If you did find a vaccine, it was accompanied by the guilt of knowing someone else likely wanted it.

May of 2022 was an entirely different situation. Everyone in my family had been vaccinated multiple times and — for my husband and myself — received a booster shot. Doctors had seen scads of cases. Hospitals were not overwhelmed. For better or worse, U.S. society appeared to have come to grips with COVID-19 and what it meant.

What got us here? Mask mandates, vaccine requirements and other preventive measures.

Kansas legislators, for instance, made political hay of such limits on the last day of the veto session, passing an odious batch of public health restrictions. They should be ashamed. Without the carefully considered limits of the last two years, many more people would have fallen sick before effective treatments were widely available.

The vaccine miracle

Above all else, I am grateful for those vaccines. They made a difference in the Wirestone household.

For each one of us, mild symptoms came and went in the span of about three days. Without COVID-19 rapid tests at hand, we might have thought we had something else altogether. We experienced the illness as a cold or random virus. That’s not an experience shared by the unvaccinated, who are still falling deeply sick and being hospitalized.

Is this a pandemic of the unvaccinated, as President Joe Biden put it last year? From our perspective, it sure looked close.

I should note that not everyone shares that good fortune or lucky outlook. Some vaccinated folks weather severe cases of COVID-19, and some of them may even die. The immunocompromised and elderly will likely have to keep their guards up, taking personal precautions when viral spread grows.

For me, a new wrinkle was added to the experience. I sought out a prescription for Paxlovid, one of the new antivirals approved against COVID-19. Many, many Americans qualify for Paxlovid but don’t know it. And while supplies were constrained late last year, the treatment has become much easier to find. The FDA even seems to be encouraging more people to use the drug therapy (it includes two different kinds of pills).

If you find yourself infected with the virus, I would urge you to speak to your health care providers about antiviral options. Another such drug, molnupiravir, has been authorized. Doctors have access to other treatments, depending on the case and patient.

The key? Getting in touch with those medical providers early. Paxlovid, for example, only works if taken within five days of symptoms beginning. Pay attention to your body and what it’s doing. Take notice if others around you become infected. If you put off taking a rapid test, or try to wait out the symptoms, it might be too late to start.

One more piece of advice. If you are prescribed Paxlovid, don’t be surprised if your mouth tastes like you’ve been gargling with dirty quarters. (My aunt opined that it tasted like gasoline.)

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Opportunities missed

While my family’s experience was brief and unremarkable, it also underscored how much our society as a whole has fallen short in addressing COVID-19.

In the early days of the pandemic, progressives allowed themselves the luxury of fantasies about how this extraordinary time in our shared history would unfold.

They would seize this opportunity to make life better and healthier for everyone in the United States.They would expand medical care to more people. They would lift people out of poverty. We would re-examine the systems that had led to so many disparate outcomes and so much unnecessary suffering. These dreams lifted Biden’s campaign and motivated much of his first year in office.

Great things did happen. Poverty was slashed. Vaccines and COVID-19 testing were free. Scientists and doctors stepped up to the challenge. No one should ignore or deny what our country accomplished when faced with a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Ultimately, our societal divisions scrambled these successes. Miraculous, life-saving vaccines became a flashpoint in a culture war, with doubts sown by those who were already inoculated.

Right now, further federal funding for COVID-19 treatment and prevention has been tied up in Washington, D.C. Federal officials no longer communicate urgently about the importance of receiving vaccines and booster shots, much less the availability of antivirals.

Rather than collectively facing our problem, society has once again fractured into islands of individuals. If you have the time, knowledge and access to resources – and are lucky enough to be in fairly robust health to begin with – you can reduce the virus’ effects on your life.

If you don’t have those things and aren’t in that position, who knows?

Please, take care of yourself and your families. Make sure you’re up to date on your shots. Learn about the antiviral treatments. Stay in touch with your doctors.

The situation has improved. Not as much as it could have, and not for as many people. But May 2022 is definitely not March 2020, for which we should all be thankful.

This column first appeared in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Kansas Reflector.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.