As delta variant rises and vaccinations fall, stubborn virus digs in for summer
The coronavirus— little more than submicroscopic flecks of genetic material encased in protein and barely a life form — is proving still to be a relentless, lethal bane of humanity.
While experts say the coronavirus vaccines may have highly rare side effects affecting the hearts of young recipients (who also respond well to quick treatment), the shots have helped to quell the pandemic, slashing infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent days.
That is occurring among the vaccinated, of course. For the unvaccinated, however, the global health menace is far from over, especially because the nasty coronavirus has mutated and its “delta” variant, first detected in India, is proving nastier still.
The delta variant is rising
Britain’s plans to ease its coronavirus measures and make a rapid return to greater normality have been delayed by worries about surging delta-variant cases.
Sydney, the largest city in Australia, is resuming rigorous public health measures as delta-variant infections have risen there.
Missouri, a state that had lagged in vaccination, is battling a surge in coronavirus cases, especially of the more contagious delta variant, which also has shown itself to punch the infected harder. Experts say the variant may have found a vulnerable population in rural Missouri, where vaccination rates have been notably low. As the Associated Press reported:
“Missouri now leads the nation with most new cases per capita. Over the past 14 days, it has recorded 144.9 new cases for every 100,000 residents, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.”
In Los Angeles County, where officials have been thrilled to see coronavirus cases plunge to lows not seen since the pandemic’s start, politicians and community leaders have reinvigorated their calls for people to get vaccinated — and to ensure that they get two shots if that’s required.
LA County, one of the nation’s most populous and geographically sprawling, saw its reported coronavirus cases in a recent report tally at 64, then double in the latest figures. And as the Los Angeles Times reported:
“Of the 123 people confirmed to have been infected with the delta variant in LA county, 110 were unvaccinated and three were partially vaccinated. There were two hospitalizations among people in this group. By comparison, variant cases have been found in 10 fully vaccinated individuals, none of whom ended up needing that level of care.”
Vaccination advantages are clear
The newspaper carried at least two pandemic-related quotes that ought to get wide, noisy circulation.
This is what Dr. George Rutherford, a University of California, San Francisco, epidemiologist, told the Los Angeles Times about the delta variant, as of now:
“If you’re vaccinated, it’s nothing. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re hosed.”
The newspaper also quoted Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thusly:
“[N]early every death due to Covid-19 [now] is particularly tragic because nearly every death — especially among adults — due to Covid-19 is, at this point, entirely preventable.”
Experts say it is the unvaccinated who are the patients with coronavirus cases bad enough to require hospitalization, and it is the unvaccinated who are dying of the virus.
The Biden Administration, which narrowly missed its announced goal of getting 70% of the country vaccinated by July 4th, will keep working on national efforts to further quell the pandemic by pushing the unvaccinated to get their shots, the president has insisted.
He and other leaders across the country have tried to persuade the unvaccinated, particularly younger Americans who have lagged in doing so, to take advantage of an array of nudges or incentives to get shots. In doing so, they may receive tickets to sporting and entertainment events. They may get swag or small product discounts. States are taking greater interest in lotteries that award sizable prizes to participants drawn from the unvaccinated who are entered by public health officials when they get shots.
Grim evidence to undercut vaccination opposition
If leaders wished, they could, of course, put a grim spin on how vaccine hesitancy and counter factual resistance imperil the planet.
Experts have warned that the longer the pandemic runs, the greater the likelihood that variants will rise that may not be so susceptible to existing vaccines. With disparities in vaccination, varying sharply in this country by states and counties, outbreaks may become more common, notably in the U.S. South. Officials don’t see awful surges like those the country experienced in 2020 and earlier this year — before sizable numbers of Americans, especially older adults, safeguarded themselves by getting vaccinated. Still, in India, experts are expressing concern that the subcontinent, which already has been overwhelmed at times by Covid-19 infections and deaths, will be hit with a third coronavirus wave, now involving a virulent variant dubbed “delta plus.”
In the United States, the pandemic, claiming more than 600,000 lives and tens of millions of infections, battered a fundamental measure of the country’s well-being — its average life expectancy. A study published in a noted British medical journal found that life expectancy in America decreased by nearly two years between 2018 and 2020, largely due to the pandemic, with Latinos and blacks getting hit even harder. Researchers said the nation has not recorded such “horrific” and sizable declines since World War II.
The Los Angeles Times, again, had notable perspective on the plunging life expectancy metric:
“An American born in 2018 could expect to live 78.7 years, on average. At the end of 2020, that number had fallen to 76.9 years, according to research published this week in the medical journal BMJ. That precipitous drop — more than eight times steeper than in any other country in the U.S.’ economic league — now puts American life spans on par with those seen in Peru, Colombia, Chile and Thailand … But those averages hide an even more shocking reality in communities of color … in just one year, the pandemic has wiped out two decades of progress made by black Americans in narrowing a longevity gap with white Americans. In 2018, a Black American had an average life span of 74.7 years. But by the end of 2020, the life expectancy of a black American had dropped by more than three years, to 71.5 years. Meanwhile, the average life span for white Americans dropped from 78.6 years to 77.3 years. In other words, the gap between Black and white Americans grew from 3.9 years to 5.8 years.
“For Latino Americans, the pandemic’s damage has cut even more deeply. Despite their higher rates of poverty and hardship, U.S. residents who identify as Latino have historically lived close to three years longer, on average, than non-Hispanic whites. But the pandemic’s outsized toll in Latino communities, especially among working-age adults, has all but wiped out that advantage. In 2018, a Latino resident of the United States could expect to live 81.8 years. By 2020, that had sunk to 78 years.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by an array of awful circumstances and things, including:
- dangerous drugs
- risky and defective products
- abuse and neglect in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- and car, motorcycle, and truck crashes.
In these cases, a crowd of problem people and institutions — these can include doctors, hospitals, insurers, regulators, and politicians — may press victims to move on, settle up, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering. It can, however, take a long time for patients to recover from terrible illness or injury. Harms can last a lifetime. Patients may need medical services, as well as financial and other support for months or years. They also need closure and justice for wrongs done, as well as the sense that they may be able to help others avoid the problems that afflicted them.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. Please get vaccinated. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms.
Infections may have fallen and fewer of us may be hospitalized with coronavirus cases now. But every infection puts patients at risk of the still unknown, lasting harms of so-called “long” Covid. If patients require hospitalization and sustained medical care for the disease, it can be costly, maybe bankrupting for them and their loved ones. And, as the CDC chief notes, even the few deaths occurring now are tragic and too many because they can be prevented.