Resolution: Create a healthy culture of caution and prevention

By Dennis Archambault

“When will this be over?” Is a less romantic and optimistic view than “When this is over.” The pandemic year is over and the return to “normalcy” has begun.  But a recent analysis by Illinois scientists suggests that the advent of effective vaccines does not guarantee a return to “normal,” whatever that may mean.

At a time when resolutions are made — and while they’re still adhered to — perhaps this is a good time to resolve to create a healthier culture through vigilant prevention of exposure and transmission of the coronavirus and “all” diseases; resolve to invest in public health and environmental health improvements that will support the prevention of disease, and resolve to create health by supporting personal willpower and social systems. That’s a lot for a resolution list that may typically be far more mundane, like adopting a physical fitness regime, losing weight, or adopting a positive attitude about life. But these are not normal times. According to the analysts, Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Janet A. Jokela, MD, MPH, acting regional dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign, “in the pre-vaccine COVID-19 America, with 30 percent of the population infected over a one-year period, with a 0.5 percent infection fatality rate, this would result in 500,000 annual deaths… In an ideal post-vaccine COVID-19 America, a vaccine that is 100 percent effective with 100 percent of the population immunized would completely eradicate the virus, driving new COVID-19 cases and deaths to zero.” This is, of course, unlikely. In fact, even a modest success is dependent on several variables, the authors note, including:

  • We don’t know the effectiveness of the vaccines with the overall population;
  • We don’t know how many people will choose to be immunized;
  • We don’t know how long the vaccines will provide protection.
  • We don’t know if the vaccines will prevent transmission.

One variable under our control is our behavior. While the unknowns are formidable variables, and the desire for the pandemic to be over is great, now is the time to resolve to adopt and/or reinforce prudent public health behaviors that will be good for all. This may lead to positive behaviors like staying current with vaccines, being attentive to common infection prevention actions (like washing hands and not working when ill), and bolstering our immune systems through healthy eating and physical fitness.

The pandemic has reminded us about our vulnerability to infectious disease. It has also taught us the importance of public health. Now is a good time to resolve to be resilient and reinforce what we can do to promote public health through personal responsibility.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.