July 2021 COPD Foundation COVID-19 Q&A

Posted on July 09, 2021   |   

This series of questions and answers on COVID-19 was authored by Dr. David Mannino.

What is happening right now with COVID-19 in the U.S.? How many people have been vaccinated?

While numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are going down, this depends on where you live, and is related to how many people have gotten vaccines there. Those counties with fewer vaccinated people have more cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, and deaths. Right now, about 67% of adults in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (although this is also different by county and age). More older adults are getting vaccinated than younger adults.

What does "fully vaccinated" mean? Is that important?

"Fully vaccinated" means having had two doses of the two-shot vaccine or one shot of the single-shot vaccine. Studies looking at protection against COVID-19 (including the new variants we will talk about below) show the most protection among people who are fully vaccinated.

Is there a relationship between COPD and COVID-19? If so, what do I need to be aware of?

The relationship between COPD and COVID-19 is not clear. Research studies show different results – some show a higher risk of COVID among COPD patients and others do not. Similarly, the risk of poorer health outcomes for COPD patients who get COVID-19 is also not clear. We do know that COPD exacerbations (flare-ups) and deaths went down in 2020, probably due to social distancing and mask wearing decreasing the spread of respiratory infections.

Is herd immunity possible at this point in the pandemic?

"Herd Immunity" is what happens once many people (a high proportion) of the population has antibodies (proteins made by your immune system – through getting an infection naturally or getting a vaccine – that protect you). This results in the virus spreading slower through those people who are not protected. It is thought that “herd immunity” is between 75% and 80%. This does not prevent someone who has not gotten a vaccine from getting infected; it just decreases how fast a virus spreads.

What are “variants?” Should I be worried about variants if I got one of the vaccines?

The COVID-19 virus and other viruses naturally mutate – or change – over time. Sometimes, these changes result in a virus that is slightly different from the initial virus. There are several different COVID-19 variants around now, with the Delta variant getting the most attention. The current vaccines work well against the Delta and other variants.

How do I know if I need to wear a mask when I’m inside a place with strangers?

The safest approach is always to mask up. In situations where you’ll be around many other people in an indoor environment, this is reasonable, especially if you have not gotten your vaccine. Masks also appear to prevent the spread of infectious agents that may cause COPD exacerbations (flare-ups).

Are there new treatments available if I do get COVID-19 and need them?

Yes. There are some newer therapies that have received approval to be used in some patients who develop COVID-19 illness.

If I had COVID-19 and recovered, what are possible the long-term effects? What can be done about them?

This is an area that we are still learning a great deal about (you may have heard this called "long COVID"). Many people appear to have long-lasting symptoms or "mental fog" long after the infection has run its course. This is an area researchers are actively studying with no known therapies or interventions yet.


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  • Thanks for a great update! I think the most difficult thing is deciding when to wear a mask and to realize that masks are good for things other than COVID. I hadn't seen my g-granddaughter for 15 months when my vaccinated kids and grandkids were finally able to visit. None of us wore masks, and I got a sinus infection, I'm sure from the little one. Never occurred to me that she was a petrie dish and because I hadn't seen her in so long, I might not be immune any more!

    • Hi Jean, and agree! I spent the past week with my 2 grandchildren and some other relatives I haven't seen for awhile, and while all the adults are vaccinated a few of us did manage to pick up colds. I am glad I managed to avoid COVID-19 for the past year and a half, there are lots of other viruses starting to circulate out there again...
  • Thank you for these timely questions and answers! Learning more about the relationship between COVID-19 and COPD is very helpful, as well as the reminder that masks help protect folks with COPD from more than COVID-19!