The pandemic, which already has killed at least 635,000 Americans and infected just under 40 million of us, is slamming hospitals. More than 100,000 coronavirus patients, including rising numbers of children and younger patients, are jamming intensive care and other units in numbers not seen since the pandemic’s start (see New York Times graphic). This is slashing hospitals’ capacity to treat non-coronavirus patients, even many in serious shape. And hard-hit southern facilities braced for the double-whammy of a hurricane making landfall.
Disease deaths continue their scary spike, now averaging 1,000 a day. Florida is taking a bludgeoning from the disease, crashing records for infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities.
If the pandemic already were not causing major harms, it also may be blamed for 100,000 more fatalities by year’s end, a closely watched expert forecast reported. This terrible toll could be slashed, if people get vaccinated, cover their faces, distance, limit their social gatherings (especially mass events), and get tested and stay home if they feel ill, the experts said.
But with misinformation flying, confusion seems to have gripped many about highly effective coronavirus vaccines, their effects and apparent waning potency, as well as who should get them and when and whether ridiculous nostrums and pricey therapies work against the virus.
Parents urged to wait for more data on vaccines for kids
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its full approval to the vaccine by Pfizer, with Moderna and Johnson and Johnson lining up their information to move, too, from emergency authorization to an official green light.
Pediatricians, though, say they have been besieged by parents, asking for “off-label” prescribing of a coronavirus shot for their kids. The vaccines are under study for those younger than 12 but they have not been approved for them, even on an emergency basis.
Federal regulators, though, allow doctors to use their best medical judgment and to prescribe any FDA approved drug or therapy “off label,” which is how worried parents hope they can get their youngsters protected as they return to in-person classes at school.
In brief, the pediatricians have turned away the parental requests, saying that they have insufficient information now about the dosage, safety, and effectiveness of vaccines in children younger than 12. Parents should wait for medical scientists and regulators to develop such information.
Warnings on drug for large animals and perplexity about antibody push
The FDA has made clear that patients are acting in nothing less than ridiculous and risky fashion by gullibly buying up and taking a veterinary drug called ivermectin at hardware and feed stores. It is a drug that can be used in humans to get rid of parasitic worms. But, based on wild misinformation spread on conservative broadcast media, consumers are snapping up ivermectin targeted to de-worm cattle and horses. The parasite treatment is highly toxic to humans, causing them, at minimum embarrassing gastric distress. It has caused reporting spikes at poison control centers in the South, even as news reports say ivermectin has sold out in Oklahoma tractor stores.
Infectious disease experts also are expressing perplexity at doctors, hospitals, and politicians in the South who are promoting monoclonal antibody therapies for diagnosed coronavirus cases, even as they have not always as enthusiastically thrown themselves into vaccination campaigns.
The disease-fighting proteins, which are cloned in labs, have shown effectiveness in treating mild-to-moderate coronavirus cases. The federal government, recognizing this, ordered the treatment’s maker to ramp up its production, bought up huge numbers of doses and is offering supplies to those in need for free.
Taxpayers, of course, are footing the bill for the treatment, which must be administered as an infusion in a doctor’s office, a clinic, or a hospital. Doses, at commercial rates, go for $2,000 or more — and that compares with, say, the cost of a single dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, going for anywhere from $20 to $180.
Awaiting more word on boosters
Americans continue to await regulators’ reviews of information from vaccine makers and studies globally, notably in highly vaccinated Israel and Great Britain, as to the safety, effectiveness, and necessity of coronavirus booster shots. President Biden has said this country will be ready to roll them out as early as late September and it is unclear if patients should expect them six or eight months after finishing the first vaccine regimen.
The boosters continue to annoy global health officials who say that America should not give a second or third shot to patients when so many people, especially in poor and developing countries, lack access to the vaccines at all.
U.S. vaccination rates have kept increasing anew, especially with media reports hammering home the severity and contagiousness of the Delta-variant driven fourth surge.
Governments, businesses, colleges and universities, school districts, and other groups have, little by little, rolled out mandates for vaccinations and face coverings (mostly indoors but also outdoors at large events, notably sports competitions and arts and cultural performances.)
Furious extremists continue to assail the mandates, including with outbursts now at opening schools and abusive conduct toward exhausted and overwhelmed health workers.
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. The country got to savor this summer, even briefly, what the world might be like with this nightmare quelled more and greater normality restored. Please get tested, if appropriate, and 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.