Integrative Medicine: Common Covid Questions from Vaccine Safety to Prevention and Treatments

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

If you haven't had covid yet, you probably know someone who has. As an integrative medicine provider trained in family medicine, I frequently am asked about conventional as well as alternative options to prevent or treat covid.

I continually field questions on vaccine safety, allergies, effectiveness against delta, ingredients, side effects, boosters, fetal cells, current hospitalizations and cases, ivermectin, covid complications, long-haul covid, infections in vaccinated vs unvaccinated, prescription options, and more.

This article is an effort to answer these commonly asked questions and discusses our current situation, prevention and treatment of covid from a combined perspective of integrative medicine, functional medicine, public health, and conventional medicine.

In a separate article, I review plant-based medicine and supplements that may help in the prevention, treatment and recovery of infection, such as astragalus, Vit D, zinc and many others (not to be used instead of vaccination and masking). Check it out here:

Information in these articles is obtained from Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, the Institute of Functional Medicine, Yale Medical Center, John Hopkins Medical Center, The Mayo Clinic, the CDC, Oregon Health Authority, Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania and many other reputable resources.

What's critical to know right now?

  • The highly contagious Delta variant is filling hospitals across Oregon & the US with record levels of COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 related ICU admissions have increased more than 500% in Oregon

  • Oregon Health Authority reported that 88% of 14,523 coronavirus cases in the week of Aug. 15-21 were among unvaccinated individuals. The 12% were breakthrough (occuring in vaccinated patients).

  • The Delta variant poses an unprecedented threat because it is more contagious and more severe.

  • Our local hospital is following disaster protocol and has a critical shortage of staffed beds, having to double-room some patients and turn away others.

  • The average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2.5 other people in an unmasked, unvaccinated group; in the same environment, Delta spreads from one person to 3.5 or 4 other people.

  • The crisis facing our hospitals stems from a crisis in our communities. COVID-19 is spreading uncontrollably, and the surge in cases is sending more people to the hospital, including younger people, who represent a growing percentage of hospitalized cases

  • The vast majority of COVID patients (about 97%) in our ICUs are intubated and unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

  • The Delta variant appears to make people sicker, so on average patients stay in the hospital longer, meaning once a bed is occupied, it will be a while before it is available again. Covid ICU patients also require more staff than most patients.

  • Overcrowded hospitals have consequences for the lives of every single one of us – young and old, vaccinated and unvaccinated: thousands of surgeries and procedures are postponed; patients who need to be hospitalized can't get a bed; patients wait so long in the ER waiting room, that up to 10% of them leaving before being seen. Overcrowded hospitals also mean overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed medical staff. Staff who are repeatedly exposed to more COVID-19 cases face greater risk of breakthrough infections; exhaustion leads to making errors.

  • None of us want to need an ICU bed, but we all expect them to be there if we, our kids, or other family members need one. Today those beds are much harder to come by

  • Staff illness and strain compound critical staffing shortages adversely affect all patients--the patient needing a transfusion, the patient needing a tumor removed before the cancer spreads, the patient needing a non-emergent surgery, the patients in the ER who can't get seen in a timely fashion....

  • If you don't have a true emergency (can't breath, horrible car accident, chest pain, severed a finger, broke your femur or hip), please use urgent care or your primary care. Most of us in primary care are skilled in minor fractures, putting on casts/splints, order xrays, CTs, MRIs, ordering bloodwork, testing you for covid, suturing lacerations, cleaning or draining wounds or abscesses, getting an EKG on your heart, etc.

Why are there variants & what does it mean for us?

  • Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants persist.

  • The more people who opt out of vaccination, the less we can suppress the virus, which gives the virus ample opportunity to mutate and become vaccine resistant--this is a major reason why we want to completely suppress the circulation of the virus in the community with masks and vaccines and social distancing

  • "If the U.S. does not get control over the community spread of the delta COVID variant, the nation will continue to see more variants that evade the protection of the vaccines," according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the White House

I heard that vaccinated people are getting infected and spreading infection, contributing to the crisis. If that's true, why should I bother to get vaccinated?

Unvaccinated adults and children are highly vulnerable to catching the Delta variant, getting sick, and spreading it. Those who are vaccinated are also able to get infected and spread the virus (88% of infections) but this is occuring at a much lower rate (12% of infections). This is why it is so critical that everyone, regardless of vaccine status, practices social distancing, avoids crowds, and masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces.

Are the vaccines still effective against the Delta variant and other variants?

While research suggests that COVID-19 vaccines are slightly less effective against the Delta variants the vaccines still provide protection against severe COVID-19 that often leads to hospitalization. For example:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is about 88% effective at preventing infection & 96% effective at preventing severe disease

  • Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is about 72% effective at preventing infection & One dose of the vaccine is 96% effective at preventing severe disease

  • The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe disease

  • Data from the state of New York showed vaccine effectiveness dropping overall from 91.7 to 79.8% against infection on average, although the vaccine continued to protect against hospitalization by about a 96% protection rate.

A COVID-19 vaccine might :

  • Prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or dying of COVID-19