Purdue HHS health expert encourages vaccines, warns against COVID-19 pandemic fatigue

Libby Richards

As COVID-19 vaccination rates rise and case numbers fall, many Hoosiers are experiencing high levels of optimism — one full year after Indiana’s initial shutdown. However, that optimism must come with caution, according to Purdue University associate professor of nursing Libby Richards.

While spring is in the air, Richards said Hoosiers must still follow coronavirus guidelines of mask-wearing, social distancing and proper hygiene, and they must follow-through on getting the vaccine, if they haven’t already. The positive momentum we are experiencing could easily be derailed by a spike in cases if we don’t remain vigilant.

What are your thoughts on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent update on public health recommendations for the fully vaccinated?

I think these are the types of vaccine messages that we need to be sharing because we know there are still some hesitancies around the COVID-19 vaccines. The messages being shared in the news needs to be focusing on these positive things. I don’t think we’ve heard enough about how effective the vaccines are in reducing death and hospitalization and severe illness. The CDC changing their recommendations and promoting gatherings for those fully vaccinated is a huge strength and a really positive message to share with the community in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccines.

In his March 11 address, President Joe Biden said there should be enough vaccines for every American adult by May 1. Do you think this will happen?

The vaccines are definitely getting out there quicker than expected. Now that we have a clear plan, the federal government is giving states plenty of access to vaccines. We are well on our way to getting any adults that want to get vaccinated a shot. Who doesn’t want to get together with their families or friends? I hope the prospect of increased socialization will really help flip those who were hesitant to get the vaccine.

According to a recent poll, the majority of Americans believe the worst of the pandemic is now behind us. Do you agree?

I only agree with that if we can still stay the course. If people say “The worst is over” and they lift mask mandates and reduce restrictions that we’ve been following, then no way. We will easily see our case numbers rise again, maybe not to the level we’ve seen, but we’re not going to see continued decreases if mask-wearing and social distancing is not happening when you’re around people you don’t live with.

Do you think we will still see case numbers rise?

With travel increasing now as well, I do believe we will see spikes again after spring break. Those who don’t have immunity need to protect themselves. That’s the only way we are going to see cases fall. We still need to be wearing masks in public. We still need to avoid large gatherings. We still need to keep our hands clean and not touch our face. All of those things are going to be important way longer than any of us want them to be.

How has Indiana performed in vaccine distribution?

I think Indiana should be proud of the number of vaccines that we’ve delivered so far. I am very pleased educators are now able to be vaccinated in Indiana. I think educators should have had the opportunity to be vaccinated sooner because if our kids aren’t in school a lot of the rest of society isn’t able to function properly. Now that educators are getting vaccinated, I’m even happier about the vaccine roll out.

How has Purdue University performed throughout the pandemic?

I think Purdue should be very proud of how they have withstood this pandemic. The vast majority of our students should be commended for how they have maintained and followed the Protect Purdue guidelines. I think it’s a really great example of how public health works when guidelines are followed properly.

A year ago, we were just coming to grips with COVID-19 but what will life be like a year from now?

This time next year, I do think travel will be much more prominent, but it still may not be where it was before the pandemic. If we continue to see high vaccination rates for the coronavirus, I envision COVID-19 will become something like the flu where we will see cases of coronavirus, but it can be controlled by vaccination, staying home when you’re sick and proper hygiene. We are not going to get rid of coronavirus. It’s not going away, but we can adapt to it.

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu