The Biden Administration, to its credit, is not easing a bit in conveying the urgency of its task in dealing with a disease that has infected more than 32 million in this country and killed at least 576,000 — roughly equivalent to the population of Baltimore.
At the same time, more than 148 million Americans older than 18 have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, roughly 57% of the adult population. Those statistics, as shown in the chart above from federal experts, were reported as of May 7.
Advances with vaccines and their regulated status
The vaccine imminently is expected to be approved for and available to an ever-younger and sizable portion of the population — those 12- to 15-years-old, with potential vaccinations opening to kids ages 2 to 11 sometime in the fall.
Vaccine makers also have pushed for yet another advance — a full and not just an emergency federal regulatory approval for their product. Such a step may take a few months. It also will, as the New York Times reported, “make it easier for companies, government agencies and schools to require vaccinations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in December that employers could mandate vaccination, and legal experts have generally agreed.”
President Biden has told the country in broadcast remarks that he knows the vaccination campaign is entering a stiff phase now, when reluctance and resistance will be high. But he wants 70% of adult Americans (~181 million of them) to have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4 — a date by which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the United States could see the pandemic throttled, if the public continues to be cautious and the vaccination targets can be reached.
Changing views on goal of ‘herd immunity’
Experts’ views are evolving as to potential pandemic resolutions, notably that the nation will not reach a much-discussed threshold of herd immunity, where so many people have gotten vaccinated or had the illness that it finds few targets to spread and mostly goes away. That goal may not be achievable, as sizable populations decline vaccination and viral variants continue to flourish. (Existing vaccines are showing solid results in safeguarding patients against major variants).
Vaccine hesitancy and access challenges are receding. For many adults and youths 16 and older, walk-up vaccinations — shots without appointments — are routine. But the sheer numbers and rates of vaccination are falling as the eager already have gotten their shots. So, the administration says it will shift its strategy and tactics, including moving doses from states where vaccines are going unused to those where demand is high. Mass sites are slowly shutting, and the federal government hopes that more shots will be administered in neighborhood clinics, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices.
With the pandemic exploding internationally, notably in India and Latin America, the administration also is stepping up the United States’ leadership in assisting other countries. This includes the president’s announcement that he will support patent waivers on drug makers that could assist poorer nation’s in increasing their vaccine stocks. Suspending intellectual property rights may strike enthusiasts of capitalism as an overreach by the federal government. It is worth emphasizing, however, that the coronavirus vaccine breakthroughs benefited — big time — from taxpayer research and development dollars, including billions of dollars poured in the ill-named Operation Warp Speed.
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. All medical interventions carry with them risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms. Consult your doctor if you have concerns. Don’t hesitate to talk with loved ones and people you respect if you have doubts.