The campaign to conquer the coronavirus pandemic is having its cautious optimism tested by a stubborn and concerning surge of cases in the Midwest and Northeast, as well as frustrating vaccine supply problems — worsened by manufacturing bungles in a Baltimore plant.
Expert forecasters now see options for how the crucial next several months could go in the battle against the disease. These include an effective vaccination program outpacing the rise of variants (including the B117 strain that has become the most common in this country) and quashing the pandemic, to the viral mutations getting out of control and the nation limping into persistent and unchecked infections for a long time.
In Michigan, where one of the worst outbreak rages (see Mayo Clinic hot spot map, above), the governor and state officials have found themselves in a public policy quandary, uncertain whether stern health restrictions may have lost their public support to be effective now after showing results before. But in California, officials are waiting and watching to see if plunging infections, hospitalizations, and deaths will reverse as they have elsewhere.
States, the Washington Post reported, are causing federal officials to scratch their heads by delaying vaccine orders of supplies that could be available to them, even as regions see case surges.
While vaccine supplies may still exceed demand, especially as Johnson and Johnson grapples with significant manufacturing problems for its one-dose product, the number of Americans inoculated continues to rise, steadily and impressively. Federal officials report that almost 115 million people or more than a third of Americans have gotten at least one of two doses of the virus vaccine. Equity issues haven’t gone away but are getting addressed.
But hesitancy challenges may be a rising roadblock, as some areas of the country have quickly vaccinated the willing and now must reach the reluctant or resistant.
And even as side-effect issues engulf the Astra-Zeneca vaccine widely used outside this country, Pfizer is pushing ahead, saying it soon will ask federal regulators, based on clinical trial information it has amassed, to allow emergency approval for its product to be used in patients as young as 12. Experts say it could be another big step in ending the pandemic if children across the country can get vaccinated, perhaps by the time educators hope to re-open all schools in the fall for all in-person classes.
In its first $1.5 trillion budget blueprint, likely to be vigorously opposed by Republicans, the Biden Administration reported that it hopes to avert future disease-related calamities like the current pandemic by working with Congress to boost spending in areas including public health and medical research. As the Washington Post reported of the Biden proposal:
“The plan also proposes a roughly 23% boost to the Department of Health and Human Services, including more than $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the administration says is the highest funding level for the public health agency in two decades. It would further create a new federal agency under the National Institutes of Health, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, focused initially on innovative research on cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Biden long has had an intense interest in cancer, and translating basic scientific discoveries into cures for patients, particularly after the death of his son, Beau, from a glioblastoma in 2015.”
The newspaper quoted this statement on the fiscal proposal by Shalanda Young, the White House’s acting budget chief:
“Together, America has a chance not simply to go back to the way things were before the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn struck, but to begin building a better, stronger, more secure, more inclusive America.”
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 when it’s appropriate for you to do so. We all can, for a little while longer, keep up the public health recommendations. Get tested if you think you have been exposed to the disease. We can practice great hygiene (especially with hand washing), keep our faces covered, maintain distance, and avoid closed and confined spaces with poor ventilation. Depending on the disease’s spread in our communities, we may be able, with safeguards, to move about more easily and enjoy a greater return to normality. But it makes no sense to be reckless, to gather in large numbers and without face coverings and distances, or in packed and badly ventilated indoor spots.
Spring is upon us and it is a better time than ever to be outdoors, enjoying open spaces and away from crowds. Stay safe and healthy and hope for sunnier days ahead.