As the summer’s deadly Delta variant surge slowly seems to be receding, questions are rising anew as to what further harms the coronavirus pandemic may inflict on a nation that already has suffered greatly.
The infection still is creating major problems in Alaska, as well as parts of the West and Upper Midwest, notably Minnesota. There, hospitals and health care systems are struggling to care for not only their regular populations of patients but also big numbers of unvaccinated patients requiring intensive treatment for Covid-19.
An unacceptable 1,700 Americans still are dying on average each day from the virus, even as medical scientists and doctors now can muster a growing arsenal to prevent and battle the illness — with free, widely available vaccinations, new monoclonal antibody therapies, and public health measures like face covering, distancing, testing, and quarantines.
But patients — whether due to lack of access, ignorance, misinformation, extreme political partisanship, or embrace of outright odd and outrageous myths — have been too willing to deny or reject medical science that would protect their health or save their lives.
Too many are willing even to threaten health workers, just as the medical establishment moves to increase the public safeguards against the worst infectious disease crisis in a century — a months-long outbreak that in this country has killed more than 720,000 and infected 45 million, including leaving many debilitated with so-called long covid.
Boosting vaccines’ protections
To bolster the apparently waning protection of the vaccines, federal regulators have moved toward vaccine boosters. Authorities have already approved a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for older patients, those who are immunocompromised or who have pre-existing conditions, or are at heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus due to their work.
A federal advisory committee has said that a booster for the Moderna vaccine would be merited at least six months after the initial, two-dose regimen for the same sorts of patients as have been made eligible for a Pfizer third dose. The Moderna booster would be a lesser amount of the vaccine already given to tens of millions, as this shot already was given in higher dose than the Pfizer inoculation.
As for the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, officials have recommended a booster here, too. Experts advised that the second J&J shot occur two months after the first and for all patients 18 and older who got this vaccine, though officials did not weigh in on yet as to whether J&J patients might want to “mix and match” vaccines, instead, getting a Pfizer or Modern mRNA vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and the FDA still must formally weigh in on the Moderna and J&J boosters.
Confused? Talk to your doctor and understand that accepted medical practices often are subject to revision, particularly as public health officials are dealing with a once-in-a-generation crisis with a suddenly appearing aggressively infectious disease. Tens of millions of people already have figured that the vaccines are safe, effective — and what shot was supposed to last forever, anyway? Convincing skeptics has been an ordeal, perhaps complicated by the rise of the booster discussions. But could the hard-core be persuaded anyhow?
Federal officials say that increasing vaccine requirements — by school districts, colleges and universities, business, the military, and health systems, including hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — have led to vaccination-rate increases from coast to coast.
As of Oct. 16, health officials reported that 218 million Americans, or ~77% of the population age 12 or older, were fully vaccinated. They reported that 9.72 million patients have gotten booster shots for which they were eligible.
Trend lines go in better directions
The campaign against the coronavirus, combined with the disease’s own calamitous course, has turned the national trend lines with hospitalizations high still but falling, deaths declining, and infections decreasing, officials say (See federal chart showing reported coronavirus cases, above).
This has led to another round of discussions on what happens next with the pandemic: Are its huge surges affecting big portions of the nation at their end, with bad regional outbreaks still possible? Will its deaths and illnesses combine with a powerful flu season to stagger the country further in the months ahead? When kids get vaccinated and incrementally more of the tens of million stragglers get their shots will the virus become endemic, circulating widely and problematic akin to the flu but not catastrophically so? Or will the failure to vaccinate people globally and in this country contribute to yet another coronavirus variant worse than Delta?
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. Please get tested, if appropriate, and get vaccinated. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster, talk to your doctor, pronto. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot. We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We can quell the coronavirus and we must do so before it mutates again in ways that can be even more disastrous.