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Douglas County News | National News | Statewide News | 08/03/21

Midlands Voices: Lessons from WWII can guide today’s fight against COVID

Maureen Tierney-Brennan and Renuga Vivekanandan, Omaha World Herald

Both of our sets of parents faced tremendous hardship in their lives. One’s parents endured the hardships of World War II with action in France, sacrifice on the home front and loss of two family members over four long years. The other’s parents faced civil war in Sri Lanka and had to flee the country to protect their children.

Wars can be difficult and drawn out, especially when the enemy develops new weapons. This is occurring now in our fight against COVID-19. With the delta variant, the enemy has just developed a new weapon (greater infectivity and easier transmission) which can produce a higher likelihood of serious disease in the unvaccinated.

If our parents were alive today, here is how they would advise us: They would say use your best weapon, the vaccine, as effectively and aggressively as possible.

They would advise folks worried about side effects to use common sense: Look at the numbers — serious side effects occur with a frequency of less than 1/100,000 to 1/500,000 whereas the chance of getting COVID is rising daily. By the end of last week, there were over 100,000 cases occurring per day in the U.S.

Some might question the efficacy of our major weapon since we are seeing some vaccine breakthrough infections. However, the great majority of such infections seen in the vaccinated are asymptomatic or mild, whereas more than 90% of the hospitalizations and almost all the deaths are in the unvaccinated.

Our parents would tell us to open our eyes to the marked increase in contagiousness of this variant — it is at east twice as infectious as other variants and likely more. Recent data shows that the amount of virus present in the nasopharynx is up to 1,000 times greater with the new delta variant.

Our parents would be bewildered at individuals complaining that wearing a mask is an infringement on personal liberty. Our parents sacrificed far more and did it willingly. They understood that personal liberty does not include the freedom to put someone’s else’s liberty or health into jeopardy.

With the new delta variant, vaccinated individuals can sometimes infect others, so wearing a mask is imperative to protect the community as well as yourself. Reducing viral exposure (the inoculum) appears to reduce the severity of disease. Thus, wearing a mask can reduce the severity of disease if you do get infected.

Our parents would have had compassion and would never forget that about 3% of Americans suffer from immunocompromise from underlying diseases, certain medications and life-saving treatments such as chemotherapy. Even with full vaccination, some of our neighbors are not as protected as others who have received their shots.

With the continued rapid rise in cases, things will continue to get worse. We as public health officials are most worried about the continued and unnecessary loss of life, and the long-term health complications seen in approximately 10% of COVID survivors. Others are more worried that we will have further lockdowns.

Our counterstrategy is simple: Get vaccinated and wear a mask indoors and in crowds. The quickest way to avoid lockdowns is to do these things now. During WWII, one of the greatest fears of the Allies was that the enemy would develop a nuclear weapon. Our parents would say, you’d better defeat the enemy before the next variant evades all our vaccines. Do it together and do it now.


Maureen Tierney-Brennan, M.D., MSc., is assistant dean for clinical research and public health and chair of the department of clinical research. Renuga Vivekanandan, M.D., is associate professor and division chief of infectious disease. Both are at the Creighton University School of Medicine.