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Doc's Medical Minute: Update on Delta variant, heart inflammation

Airman smiling in a doctor's coat.

Medical Minute by U.S. Air Force Col. Ryan Mihata, 86th Medical Group commander, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Regina Burbidge)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --

As we come out of the third wave, our COVID case count levels are the lowest they have been since last summer before the start of the second wave.  It is the collective community and prevention measures along with high levels of vaccination in our population that have made this possible.  The current incidence in Germany is only five per 100,000 population, with similar single digit levels in our local community and on base. 

With that said, I remain concerned about the Delta variant.  Not long ago, the UK had the lowest case counts and was leading Europe in vaccinations.  Due to the Delta variant, it now has one of the worst case counts in Europe (124 per 100,000) despite its high vaccination rates.  The UK and Portugal are European nations listed on the RKI as “variant” locations.  This prompts the mandatory quarantine upon arrival, regardless of vaccination status.  The high levels of cases in the UK are attributed primarily to the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations.  Being fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) appears to be protective against the Delta variant.  Even if you are vaccinated, continue practicing good precaution measures: distancing, hand washing, and mask wear.  We must not get complacent. 

Recently the CDC announced a likely association between the mRNA vaccines and cases of heart inflammation (myocarditis and pericarditis).  We continue to recommend vaccination as the benefits of protection from COVID outweigh the risk of the side effects.  Myocarditis can be caused by many things, viral infections being only one of them.  The comparison of the incidence of myocarditis in the general population (four-six cases per 100,000) is greater than cited numbers of cases associated with mRNA COVID vaccines (one-three cases per 100,000).  So while there may be an association, the protection from the vaccine outweighs the risk of side effects.

Ramstein has administered nearly 27,000 doses of the vaccine to date.  If you are an adult who has not been vaccinated yet, there is still plenty of supply available.  U.S. adults can use the walk-in hours every weekday from 9 a.m. to noon, or you can make an appointment.  View instructions at https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information/.  As demand for the vaccine continues to decrease, I expect to draw down vaccine operations.  In the weeks to come, we will reduce the vaccine shot line to two days a week.  Of note, 86th Medical Group medics will be offering the vaccine at Ramstein’s Independence Day Concert July 3.  

Additionally, I have been extremely thankful for our collaboration with local German medical authorities.  German providers have administered nearly 4,000 vaccines to our local national and partner nation forces.  Protecting these populations directly protects U.S. forces and ensures Force Health Protection for us all.  COVID does not care about our nationality.  We are all in this pandemic together.

Please continue to be aware of the changing travel guidance and local regulations and restrictions.  Continue good prevention measures.  If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, get your shot today!