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Suffolk Closeup: Society comes through

After writing about COVID since the pandemic began, I got it.

A medicine called Paxlovid taken in pill form moderated the severity of the infection.

One hundred years ago, an aunt, my father’s sister Alice, died of an illness that, as my father would say, could have been cured with “$3 worth of penicillin.” Her death impacted the family deeply and was considered part of the stress contributing to my grandfather dying. But penicillin only began being used in medicine decades later.

With all the faults in society, the response to the COVID pandemic — the rapid development of vaccines; the dispensing of them with the National Guard mobilized to assist; and the bravery of medical personnel to treat COVID victims when, especially at the start of the pandemic, deaths were widespread from this extremely contagious disease — has been highly meritorious.

Society came through.                

My wife and I caught COVID at an event attended by a large number of people with very few wearing masks. They were holding to an incorrect COVID-carefree notion many people have had as cases declined. (As a front-page headline in The New York Times this summer noted: “COVID-19 Rises Again in New York.”)

Janet was the first coming down with COVID. She was coughing and feeling terrible, having what she described as “the worst cold I have ever had.” She took one of the COVID test kits we had at home and tested herself. Both a blue and a red bar showed up on the reading, a notice of her being COVID-positive.

She conferred through a Telehealth visit with Dr. Allen Fein of Southampton, a family physician in the Stony Brook Medicine network, and our primary care provider, who prescribed Paxlovid.

I thought I had beaten getting the infection. I took a test each day for two days and received negative readings — only a blue line. Then, in the middle of the night, in bed, a bad headache woke me up. I ambled downstairs, took a COVID test and this time it was positive. In the morning, I took it again — once more positive.

In a Telehealth visit, Dr. Fein and I spoke and he prescribed Paxlovid for me, too. That evening, I took the first dose of Paxlovid, and indeed it is powerful.

I felt extremely tired after the three pills — the first dose of taking three pills at a time twice a day over five days. After the last three-pill dose, at just 8:30 p.m., I crashed, bereft of energy and went right to bed. I woke up 12 hours later. But this strong drug seemed to have worked.

Symptoms diminished. And thereafter I had little and then no reaction after taking the Paxlovid pills. In a week, I had no COVID symptoms, notably marked for me by a lot of coughing.

Lessons from this: Wearing a mask can still be important. And vaccinations remain important. My wife and I have each had four shots. Still, after six months their effectiveness declines. COVID is constantly mutating with new strains, and because of this, folks need to get inoculated with the latest formulation. An updated formula just became available last week.

And, then there’s the lesson that the pharmaceutical industry, government entities involved in the COVID crisis and our courageous health care providers deserve great thanks.

Explaining Paxlovid, developed and produced by Pfizer, the “fact sheet” coming with the pills says they include “nirmatrelvir, a SARS-CoV-2 main protease … inhibitor, and ritonavir, an HIV-protease inhibitor and CYP3A inhibitor, for the treatment of mid-to-moderate coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in adults and pediatric patents (12 years of age and older …) who are at high risk for progressive to severe COVID-19 including hospitalization or death.”

I don’t know what all that means, but as the National Institutes of Health said in a 2017 publication titled “The Discovery of Penicillin — New Insights After More Than 75 Years of Clinical Use” (it’s online): “In February 1941, the first person to receive penicillin was an Oxford [England] policeman who was exhibiting a serious infection with abscesses throughout his body. The administration of penicillin resulted in a startling improvement in his condition after 24 hours.” The NIH continued: “After just over 75 years of penicillin’s clinical use, the world can see that its impact was immediate and profound.”

In 1954 the Salk vaccine was first used to inoculate people against polio. I was 12, getting ready to go to Ten Mile River Scout Camp in upstate Narrowsburg for a second summer. Polio was a great fear then, especially at Boy Scout camps. In 1921 Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted the polio virus while, it was believed, visiting a Boy Scout Jamboree at (not far off) Bear Mountain State Park.

He was left disabled the rest of his life. This was decades before vaccines to stop polio had been created by Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin and put to wide use. May the research and drugs developed to combat COVID have the same success as penicillin and the Salk and Sabin vaccines!