The Omicron variant swiftly has become the nation’s dominant strain, with coronavirus infections skyrocketing from coast to coast.
Officials are anxiously awaiting data to gauge the severity of Omicron infections and if the sharp rise in cases involving this variant will mean overwhelming numbers of patients requiring care in hospitals, too many of which already have been swamped, treating those infected with the deadly Delta variant.
Pandemic deaths are creeping up again to distressing levels, as are hospitalizations. While doctors say Omicron is causing more breakthrough infections, many of them relatively mild, Delta continues to sicken and kill the unvaccinated.
They make up the preponderance of those who require hospitalization — and they are the patients dying of the disease. This is a preventable menace.
Still, the resistance to vaccinations and boosters remains ferocious, leading tens of millions to put themselves and others around them at high risk of infection, or, perhaps, to relying on medical treatments, including important and newly approved antivirals that will, for a while, be in scarce supply.
The pandemic has killed 815,00 Americans and infected almost 52 million of us. (These figures likely are understated). New infections are occurring at stunning pace — almost 200,000 on average daily, increasing 65% over the last two weeks. And 70,000 patients are hospitalized daily on average, a 10% increase in the last two weeks.
Federal officials estimated that, as of Dec. 23, 205 million Americans were fully vaccinated, and 65 million people had gotten boosters. (The booster numbers may be less accurate due to issues in reporting that may blur them with initial vaccinations).
The threat of highly infectious Omicron has increased the number of people getting the first regimen of coronavirus vaccinations — and it has bolstered the still-flagging booster efforts.
But the expert recommendation that patients increase the flagging immunity provided by existing vaccines with additional doses has only fueled the resistance and skepticism among the unvaccinated, opinion pollsters have found.
Younger, white, and Republican individuals who make up the majorities of the tens of millions refusing vaccination have told interviewers that they doubt the safety or effectiveness of the shots and regard them as an unwanted intrusion on their personal freedoms.
Their skepticism — or cynicism — about the vaccines has been adopted and endorsed by too many GOP politicians, including leaders who have launched legal challenge to public health efforts to quell the pandemic. The U.S. Supreme Court in January will expedite a hearing on red states’ opposition to Biden Administration vaccine mandates, requirements upheld in consolidated cases heard in a federal appellate court.
In a startling shift, former President Trump has publicly supported the vaccines, which he, in factual but also self-aggrandizing fashion, wants credit for as a major accomplishment of his administration. Trump has been booed by his supporters when he and a onetime leading conservative talk show host both declared that they were vaccinated and had gotten the booster. The president has repeated his vaccination status and gone further, saying the shots are safe, effective, and that the unvaccinated suffer serious health consequences (see video above, courtesy the Lincoln Project).
While revelations pile up about grievous policy blunders that occurred in Trump’s time and under his direction, causing the pandemic to worsen and sizable numbers of more deaths, it will be interesting to see if the zealous supporters of the former president heed him now about getting vaccinated.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. Please get tested, if appropriate (and if you can be patient enough to find tests), AND get vaccinated, AND get those booster shots. 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.
We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We cannot allow anti-science fanatics to destroy centuries of progress with the viral spread of ever-wilder fantasies and conspiracies. Our health system, the envy of the world, cannot be a toy that will be smashed and ruined by selfish belligerence.