By MEAGHAN HISLOP
As millions of Americans begin getting, or making appointments to get, the new COVID-19 vaccines, our lives and businesses are on their way to getting back to “normal.” But even so, it’s important to understand that while the approved vaccines show strong efficacy rates, we can’t let our guard down just yet on disinfection and other measures to stop the spread of disease. Not only is there a lot we still don’t know about these vaccines as they relate to transmission, but with all the focus on SARS-CoV-2, it’s easy to forget that there are still a lot of other viruses and bacteria in our world which can cause significant illness and potential outbreaks.
With fewer cars on the road due to COVID-19 restrictions, data indicates there have been fewer auto accidents. Despite this, we continue to wear seatbelts while driving. In that same vein, even though the COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be distributed, this doesn’t mean we should let our guard down toward disinfection and other safety measures. Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the FDA approved vaccines, achieve the primary goal of preventing severe disease, with an impressive effectiveness around 95 percent for both. As the trials for both primarily focused on symptomatic patients, the vaccine’s potential effects on transmission from asymptomatic individuals remains to be seen. The UK distribution, and ongoing clinical trials, of the AstraZenica vaccine may help answer these questions for that vaccine, but ultimately more data is needed to understand if these vaccines will prevent transmission as well as preventing severe disease. For the moment, we don’t have a hardline answer about how the vaccine could influence asymptomatic cases, and specifically, if those individuals could still unknowingly transmit the virus even after vaccination.
While we should all be optimistic given the demonstrated effectiveness of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, we don’t yet know enough to fully let our guard down. Keeping in mind too, that many at-risk individuals will be unable to get the vaccine at all, either because they are immunocompromised, or because they may have vaccine-related allergies. So, it seems until the vaccine has widespread adoption and we better understand the effects on transmission, we need to continue to protect the community around us through preventive measures, including disinfection of office spaces, patient rooms, waiting rooms, ambulances and more.
It’s important to keep in mind that best laid plans aren’t foolproof when it comes to highly contagious disease. In fact, despite reaching this vaccine roll-out period, there remains a concern for increased transmission due to a false sense of security that being vaccinated may give people. Even if everyone in an office or healthcare facility gets vaccinated, it’s not the isolated environment it may seem. We don’t live in a bubble, and each and every one of us goes home to a family and/or interacts with the public at some point. While social distancing, personal hygiene and increased ventilation are important, the more human traffic an area gets, and the more spaces people touch (including chair arm rests, door handles, pens, coffee pots, copy machines, phones, etc.), the more these areas should be disinfected. Whole space disinfection is vitally important to help disinfect not just one surface, but all of these surfaces at once. Even when employed on a regular basis, partial disinfection may not be enough to prevent transmission. Hand-wiping surfaces and equipment using solutions with 99.9 percent effectiveness rates (and that’s only IF used properly with very specific dwell times on the surface) may leave behind many viable pathogens. While some exposure to germs can help keep our immune system healthy, exposure in the doctor’s office, in an ambulance, or even in a hospital room is not the time or place to be challenging one’s immune system. Even more thorough disinfecting systems with higher kill rates often use chemicals and ingredients that are surprisingly toxic to humans and can cause corrosion of equipment and surfaces. And then how do you even know the effective kill rates are achieved? With the proper disinfection system, not only are patients thoroughly protected, but equipment and office materials are not compromised or harmed. In addition, the best systems create and maintain an optimal Pathogen-Kill Zone™ that reaches every nook and cranny, even where eyes can’t see, and hands and UV light can’t reach. For example, a Hybrid Hydrogen Peroxide (HHP) system can kill 99.9999 percent of dangerous germs*, including impacting SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19); and sync to a state-of-the-art app for remote operation, real-time job tracking and reporting, so it’s no longer just guessing whether or not the space has been properly disinfected, but there are provable and measurable results for quality control. These systems, such as the HHP from CURIS System in Oviedo can deliver a ten times stronger, safer, and more thorough kill than UV light.
While COVID-19 has been one of the worst pandemics to occur during most of our lifetimes, there may be a silver lining for healthcare and emergency services. If nothing else, this pandemic has opened up the door for the industry to enhance its common disinfection practices every step of the way and to be more thorough and more efficacious in fighting the environmental transmission of disease and infection. So even when the COVID-19 pandemic is (hopefully) in the history books, we still need to be concerned with stopping the occurrence and transmission of diseases such as MRSA, flu, Candida, and others, and we need to stay vigilant for similar threats in the future. Epidemiologists agree that this is unlikely be the last pandemic we will need to deal with. And while too many of us were caught off guard for COVID-19, there is a lot we can be doing today to make sure we are not caught off guard again. Remember, even with all we’ve done over the years to fight tuberculosis, still today about 10 million people per year contract the disease and 1.4 million people died from it in 2019. So even post COVID-19, don’t throw away your masks, don’t stop watching your hands, and by all means, don’t stop cleaning and performing the most advanced disinfection.
*Kill of c.diff in a tri part soil load
Meaghan Hislop is the research biologist for CURIS Decontamination System. Visit www.curissystem.com