Even as the coronavirus batters parts of the country, notably the Mountain West, public health officials are pointing to key ways in which Americans could safely and effectively further quell the pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and infected tens of millions.
Children ages 5 to 12 have been approved for emergency use for a lower-dose Pfizer vaccine, and a third of parents who told pollsters they were eager to get their youngsters vaccinated have begun to do so at pediatricians’ offices, clinics, schools, pharmacies, and other at-the-ready sites.
Experts say vaccinating young children, atop of already approved shots for kids ages 12 and older, will provide an important safeguard to a vulnerable population of millions as well as helping to ensure they will not spread the coronavirus.
The rise of antiviral prescription drugs
Pfizer, in the meantime, reported that it has developed a pill that the drug maker says is safe and highly effective in treating the coronavirus in patients’ homes. The drug is taken over time, in a regimen, and works best when administered early after infection and diagnosis, preventing in highly successful fashion the infection’s advance to serious levels with hospitalization or even death.
Merck earlier had announced that it, too, has developed its own coronavirus-fighting pill. British regulators have given it their emergency approval for use.
Both Pfizer and Merck still need federal regulators’ emergency-use approval, based on data the companies submit, before they can mass produce and market their coronavirus combatting products.
The newest prospective coronavirus therapies, which disrupt the virus’ ability to make myriads of copies of itself, hold promise because they are cheaper and more easily administered than existing treatment with monoclonal antibodies.
Those therapies must be given by infusion and cost thousands per patient. Monoclonal antibodies, which mimic the body’s own defensive reaction to a coronavirus infection, have proved safe and effective. They became a curiously popular medication among extremists who somehow conjured wild theories about coronavirus vaccines but not about the advances underlying antibody therapies.
The antiviral pills’ cost has not been set, though early reports about Merck’s med suggest it will cost hundreds of dollars per patient regimen. That compares with the $40 cost for a two-shot coronavirus vaccination.
But President Biden welcomed the prospective antivirals to battle the pandemic, the Washington Post reported from his news conference:
“If authorized by the [Food and Drug Administration], we may soon have pills that may treat the virus of those who become infected. The therapy would be another tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid.”
Struggles with vaccine requirements and resistance
The national campaign to quell the pandemic, of course, remains highly politicized and fraught with challenges at every turn.
Eleven states have sued the Biden Administration over its now detailed plan to require companies with more than 100 employees to safeguard their workforce by requiring their staff, starting on Jan. 4, to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or be subjected to regular testing, for which businesses or individuals would be required to pay.
Republican attorneys general have denounced the employer mandates, calling them an overreach of federal power and an infringement on individuals’ rights. A conservative federal appellate court in New Orleans has temporarily blocked the large-employer vaccination requirement.
Hesitancy and resistance to vaccines remains a giant public health problem, now with parents expressing not only natural questions about coronavirus shots for their kids but also counterfactual notions about shots and unfounded assertions about their harms. Public opinion surveys suggest that a third of parents want their youngsters vaccinated quickly, a third want to wait and may have doubts, while a third reject the idea of shots for kids.
All medical interventions, of course, carry risks. But vaccinations benefits have clearly far outweighed their harms. The coronavirus shots resulted from years of rigorous research, and hundreds of millions of people around the globe have taken the vaccines with relatively few adverse incidents. News organizations, working with pediatricians and other medical scientists and experts, are working hard to dispel parental worries about the coronavirus vaccines (click here or here to see examples) and to get as many young people vaccinated as possible, pronto.
It is worth noting that parents, until fairly recently, had routinely gotten more than a dozen shots for school-aged kids and safe and effective vaccines have mostly wiped out infections that once debilitated and even killed youngsters on scary scale.
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. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster or optimizing your mixing and matching of coronavirus shots, talk to your doctor, pronto. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot.
As of Nov. 5, federal officials reported that 193.4 million Americans were fully vaccinated, with 22.3 million people having received a booster shot. More than 750,000 U.S. lives have been lost in the pandemic, with more than 46 million of us infected by the disease, which afflicts many for sustained periods afterwards — the scourge of “long Covid.”
A newly published study estimates that in 2020, due to the pandemic, more than 28 million extra years of human life were lost globally, with life expectancy — especially for men — taking sharp dives.
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.