The coronavirus pandemic continues to kill an average of 1,200 Americans each day and the disease infects more than 76,000 people daily — unwavering numbers that have led public health officials — wary of what the hectic holidays will bring — to double down on their campaign for vaccinations against the virus.
This is especially true for kids, and with boosters, perhaps now for almost all.
The drug maker Pfizer, which already had presented federal regulators with data on how its vaccine wanes in effectiveness over time, has asked for approval to give all patients who have completed its two-shot regimen a third dose for increased protection.
Pfizer says its data show few complications from its vaccine and a big boost in its effectiveness with the third shot.
Federal officials already granted the drug maker approval for boosters for older people, the immunocompromised, as well as those with underlying conditions and who are at higher risk of coronavirus exposure due to their work.
Officials also have approved boosters for those who got vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, with health experts also giving the green light to mixing and matching shots. This is especially true for patients who got the one-dose J&J vaccine. All those who got this one shot have been encouraged to get a next dose of the Pfizer or Moderna product, or a second J&J shot.
Leaders in states like Colorado and California are not waiting and have told public health officials, doctors, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and others that they may give boosters to anyone requesting them. Colorado threw open the doors to boosters as the state deals with a pandemic surge that is hitting the Intermountain states hard, with hospitals overloaded and cases increasing.
Kids are getting shots but others, less so
The campaign to get additional shots in Americans’ arms is lagging, with federal officials estimating that 26.1 million people who already were fully vaccinated have gotten the recommended and appropriate extra shot.
Officials say that 194.4 million people in this country are fully vaccinated.
They have expressed guarded relief that 1 million kids between the ages of 5 and 12 have gotten a lower-dose Pfizer shot, which was approved for emergency use in youngsters after the drug maker produced data showing its vaccines are safe and highly effective in children.
Hospitals — overwhelmed or digging out still from the summer Delta variant surge — report that the coronavirus patients requiring their intensive care are, in overpowering fashion, unvaccinated and lacking protection against the debilitating and deadly coronavirus.
Booster shots, experts say, are proving popular among older patients and in areas of the country smacked hard by the summer coronavirus surge. As the Washington Post reported:
“Just over half of Montana’s population has been fully vaccinated, ranking 35th in the nation, but nearly 1 in 5 vaccinated Montanans received boosters, ranking second in the nation. Montana is among a dozen states leading the nation in both infections and booster rates: Vermont, Idaho, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming, Michigan, Colorado, Alaska, New Mexico, and North Dakota. Most of those states also have had overall low vaccination rates. Vermont is an outlier with the nation’s highest vaccination rate and booster rate.
“Several states that successfully vaccinated the vast majority of their population — including New York, California, New Jersey, and the District — have since seen a lull in new cases and a smaller share of immunized residents getting a booster. Booster rates are also low in poorly vaccinated states where infections have calmed, such as Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, and North Carolina. That has worried some public health authorities.”
As the weather cools in the northern part of the country and more people are forced indoors and to stay in closer quarters, public health officials — especially seeing the coronavirus’ tenacity — are worried about the pandemic’s path in the days ahead.
Battles over vaccination requirements
Companies, schools, colleges, universities, health care providers, governments, and other institutions and organizations have tried to prod their people to get vaccinated by requiring the shots or regular testing that individuals may be forced to pay for.
But resistance persists to an extreme to the vaccines, mandates for them, and public health measures like face coverings or showing proof of vaccination to go to public spots like bars, restaurants, stores, and gyms.
Attorneys general in conservative states have sued the Biden Administration over its vaccination requirements for federal workers and contractors. The administration is seeking to persuade a federal appeals court in New Orleans to lift its block on the U.S. vaccine mandate. States also have sued the administration contesting its vaccine mandates for health workers — a requirement that officials argue will slam rural areas already struggling to keep hospital, clinic, and other medical staff.
Public health officials also find themselves battling disinformation about the coronavirus and vaccinations, notably from evidence-light but prominent individuals such as NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers or actor Matthew McConaughey, or from conservative partisans, particularly as GOP politicians exercise great sway in regions of the country. As David Leonhardt reported for the New York Times:
“The gap in Covid’s death toll between red and blue America has grown faster over the past month than at any previous point. In October, 25 out of every 100,000 residents of heavily Trump counties died from Covid, more than three times higher than the rate in heavily Biden counties (7.8 per 100,000). October was the fifth consecutive month that the percentage gap between the death rates in Trump counties and Biden counties widened.
“Some conservative writers have tried to claim that the gap may stem from regional differences in weather or age, but those arguments fall apart under scrutiny. (If weather or age were a major reason, the pattern would have begun to appear last year.) The true explanation is straightforward: The vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe Covid, and almost 40% of Republican adults remain unvaccinated, compared with about 10% of Democratic adults.”
The willingness for some first-responders, law enforcement officers, and even health workers as well as political partisans to follow counterfactual notions to the extreme is difficult to fathom, especially in the face of hard data: Consider that in 2021, in Texas — where the GOP holds power and politicians have fought evidence-based responses to the pandemic, including vaccines — death has stalked the unvaccinated. As the Washington Post reported:
“In all age groups, the state’s unvaccinated were 40 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated people. The study also found that the unvaccinated in all age groups were 45 times more likely to have a coronavirus infection than fully vaccinated people.”
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 (as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser did recently, as shown above) 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.
More than 760,000 U.S. lives have been lost in the pandemic, with more than 47 million of us infected by the disease, which afflicts many for sustained periods afterwards — the scourge of “long Covid.”
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.