It’s the end of January and I’m writing this, thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, as a doctor and a human. Did you make any? And perhaps already broken them?!? I would like you to think about the 5 things in this post—not as New Year’s Resolutions exactly, but as a code of practice for 2021. A set of safety signposts. If you follow the signposts, they will reduce your risk of COVID-19. Consider them 5 things you can do to keep COVID-safe. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
The big question: How can you reduce your chance of COVID-19 infection by 95%? The big answer: Roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offers you a whopping 95% chance of staying safe!
What’s the evidence?
- On December 10th 2020, the New England Journal of Medicine published the Pfizer/BioNTech phase 3 clinical trial.
- Overall, the vaccine reduced the chance of becoming infected with COVID-19, by 95%.
Most of those who received the vaccine reported only minor redness and swelling at the injection site. Severe pain was reported by less than 1% of patients.
Fatigue and headache were the most common side effects. However, the vaccine was generally very well tolerated—these symptoms were also reported in those who had been given the placebo. Fever was reported in 0.2% in the vaccine group, and in 0.1% of those who had the placebo, after the first dose.
27% of vaccine recipients were found to have had an adverse event, compared to 12% of in the placebo group. The most common adverse event was lymphadenopathy (enlarged glands), which occurred in 0.3% of those vaccinated and less than 0.1% of the placebo group. There were only 4 adverse events reported in the vaccine group, which were classed as serious.
There were 2 deaths in the vaccine group (from atherosclerosis, and cardiac arrest) and four deaths in the placebo group (2 were cause unknown, one from a stroke and one from a heart attack) but none of the causes of these deaths were felt to be directly caused by the vaccination.
So, what can we take away from all this? Key points about the COVID vaccination:
- This vaccine has been shown to be safe, and effective. You are more likely to suffer from becoming infected with COVID-19, then you are from being vaccinated.
- The COVID-19 virus is dangerous and deadly. The overall death rate from COVID-19 is 0.5 -1%. However, the risk of death increases is a stepwise fashion with age. It jumps up aged over, 50, over 60, over 70, and at over 80, the death rate is almost 10%.
- Although most people have recovered from COVID in a couple of weeks, one in 20 still have symptoms after 8 weeks, and one in 50 still have symptoms after 12 weeks, so-called Long COVID. This is a serious, debilitating disease, which is very different from having the flu.
Be kind to yourself—get vaccinated and stay safe.
Follow the Rules – Wear a Face Mask
A face mask is just a piece of cloth worn across your face. Why would anyone object to wearing one if it helps save your life and the lives of others?
Here’s a list of reasons to wear a mask
- Masks reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection. If 80% of the country wore face masks, this would have a bigger effect on reducing viral transmission than a full lockdown of the entire USA.
- Wearing a mask could save your life, or the life of someone you love.
- By wearing a mask, you are helping others, not just yourself. This helps break the chain of infection in the community.
- By wearing a mask, you are helping your country and the economy.
- When you wear a mask, you set a good example and others will follow. Make mask-wearing a normal part of everyday life.
- When you wear a mask, you are taking control. It feels good to be in control—when in the pandemic we often feel helpless.
- People will be grateful you are wearing a mask. It feels good when you have done something kind for other people.
Don’t wait to be told to put on your face mask—be the first person to do this and set a good example. It’s really such a simple thing to do and if everyone did it, this would make such an enormous difference.
Stay at Home
However, you think about it, COVID-19 does not just get up and spread itself around the community—it’s people who spread the virus.
The saddest thing is that those who spread it, very often have no idea they are infected. Even Santa himself unknowingly infected 75 people in an elderly Care Home in Belgium just before Christmas – 64 residents and 14 members of staff. Most people with COVID—and that includes Santa – have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. If they do develop symptoms, are most infectious before these symptoms develop.
There’s only one solution. Stay away from other people. Stay at home.
Think about it. You may have worked hard to create a lovely home – so why not take the opportunity to enjoy it? There are many ways to avoid unnecessary trips out of your home – from having supermarket home deliveries to having Zoom chats with friends online. Learn to say ‘No’ to big gatherings and stick to your guns.
My husband, who has cancer, has not been inside a shop for 10 months. The only time he goes outside is if he is in the garden, of for walks outside in the woods. Until we have both been vaccinated and he has finished treatment, we just need to be patient and sensible, and frustrating though it is, it is perfectly possible.
Improve Your Physical Health
A friend of mine has just lost 4 stone—55 pounds—in the past 5 months. He decided to do this because he knew he was a male, aged 55, and overweight and hence was in a high-risk category if he became infected with COVID. I’m so impressed. He’s been working from home because of the pandemic and does not have the stressful commute, so he’s been using the time productively to follow the diet, and cycle on an exercise bike every day instead.
Did you know that just losing 5% of your body weight has considerable health benefits?
Lower your blood pressure – For every pound you lose, you lower your systolic (upper reading) and diastolic (lower reading) blood pressure by one mmHg.
Reduce your risk of diabetes – Being overweight or obese means your body is at risk of oxidative stress, and more likely to be suffering from chronic systemic inflammation. As part of this, your body becomes relatively insensitive to the hormone insulin. This results in higher blood sugars and increases your risk of diabetes. Losing weight lowers chronic inflammation and restores insulin sensitivity.
Take the weight off your knees – Did you know that each extra pound you weigh subjects your knees to four pounds more weight to carry? So, if you are 10 pounds overweight, your knees are carrying an extra 40 pounds! When you lose weight, this is exponentially good for your knees and can greatly help pain due to osteoarthritis.
Reverse symptoms of acid-reflux – Losing weight can reduce symptoms of reflux by as much as 40%.
Improve your sleep – Weight loss has been shown to improve many aspects of sleep including better quality of sleep and less daytime sleepiness.
Have psychological benefits – Those who lose weight often find they have psychological benefits such as increased levels of self-esteem, less depressive symptoms, and better health-related quality of life.
Lower your risk of severe COVID infection – The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has reported that obesity is a recognized risk factor for severe COVID infection. In one study, two-thirds of patients who had been in intensive care with severe COVID, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, were overweight or obese. Furthermore, obesity increases the risk of dying from COVID-19 infection by 37%. The BHF strongly recommends now is the time to lose weight, to reduce your risk of severe COVID.
New Year, new you! Why not be proactive, start a proper weight loss regime, and make 2021 a year to remember.
Improve Your Mental Health
Your mental health matters. This is because how you feel, and the everyday decisions you take, affect your physical health. The two are inextricably bound. If you have good mental health, you are more likely to engage in health-related activities and comply with health advice and treatment programs. In this current COVID pandemic, there has never been a more important time to do just this.
How can you improve your mental health? The NHS has the following recommendations –
Spend time with other people
This does not mean reaching for the internet! It means drawing your circle of family and friends closer to you by shared experiences. Plan to eat dinner with your family every night. Arrange a walk and a coffee with friends you haven’t seen for a while. Offer to help, for example, with childcare, babysitting, or gardening. Maybe try being a volunteer. These personal interactions help build our self-esteem, make us feel valuable and connected in society.
Do more exercise
Exercise is well known to help your physical fitness, but it also raises levels of endorphins and helps you feel more positive and energetic. There are many ways you can do this. Try joining a walking group, dog walking, or doing a sponsored walk with friends. Take up a new hobby, such as swimming, yoga, or Zumba. Join a local sports club – outdoors of course, at present. Whatever it is, make it fun, and keep it going to get the long-term benefits.
Learn something new
Why not take up a new hobby or learn a new skill? It could be anything – arts and crafts, cake decoration, knitting, or joining a book club. Engaging in a new activity can have very positive consequences for your psychological wellbeing.
Enjoy giving and showing gratitude
Kindness is a feel-good emotion, and you need to be kind to others, as well as kind to yourself. Start listening to other people and showing real empathy for their problems and seeing what you can do to help. You will find being involved and being caring has enormous repercussions. This often leads to you giving your time to help fix something or provide care or support for someone else. It will leave you with a great sense of purpose. Acceptance and pride.
Learn the technique of mindfulness
Mindfulness derives from an old Buddhist technique. It’s a psychological technique which means living in the moment and taking time to fully appreciate what is happening at this moment. It helps you feel calm and less stressed. It also helps you deal with stressful thought and emotions, and to kind to yourself.
Learn more about mindfulness here.
It’s true – if you work on improving your mental health, improvements in your physical health will follow.
Final Thoughts From the Doctor
These five things are signposts to COVID safety. Can you follow the signposts and stay safe? All 5 of these points are not hard things to do – but they do rely on you reaching out and doing something for yourself. Let’s see what we can all do for ourselves and take steps to ensure 2021 is a much better year for us all. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy