The Trouble With Vax-Pax-Unmask

Deepti Pradhan
6 min readMay 18, 2022

Despite massive global data gaps, it is generally accepted that more than 6.3 million of 7.7 billion people have died as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic — that’s more than 0.08% of humanity lost to a single global event.

When SARS-CoV-2 hit the world in 2019, saying we were ill-prepared for it would be an understatement. Today, we have vaccines, medications, and non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks to help us through the COVID-19 pandemic. But case numbers and deaths continue to rise, because of inequitable access to interventions, ignoring science, and shortsighted and confusing policies.

Current policies in the US are often broadcast with confounding accompanying maps. For example, most media outlets display the CDC map for county levels of COVID-19 showing more than 80% of the counties at a “low level”, indicating fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the last 7 days. However, if we looked at community transmission — a measure of percentage of positive RT-PCR results for COVID-19 in the last 7 days, only 9.28% of counties are in the “low level”.

The default map that is displayed when visiting the CDC site is the one on the left, suggesting a low level of COVID-19 in most counties. Consequently, policymakers have removed mask mandates, while community transmission is once again taking hold. Further, support for testing is also ebbing with many testing centers closing their doors, and home tests have a wide range of limits of detection, some varying by more than 100 fold in their limit of detection — a lower limit of detection indicates a more sensitive test, with fewer viral copies per sample necessary to elicit a positive test result.

In the most privileged and best case scenarios, individuals are vaccinated with up to four doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. If such individuals follow the green map and abide by the publicized “masks are not necessary” policies, but still fall sick, they can test themselves at home with a rapid antigen test. If the test they purchased had a very high limit of detection, they might test negative and assume they have a cold or something largely…

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Deepti Pradhan

Employed at Yale University, Deepti is primarily a scientist & patient advocate. She runs Tilde Cafe, a forum to make science accessible (www.tildecafe.org)