The disease’s global toll now has exceeded 4 million deaths, a number that is likely far under reported, according to the World Health Organization.
The United States still has tallied a disproportionate number of virus fatalities — more than 600,000 deaths.
But officials in this country, while welcoming the significant progress against the pandemic due to outstanding vaccines and vaccination programs that have been estimated to have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, also seem summer stuck — as to how much alarm to raise about the fast-spreading and now dominant Delta variant with its rapidly increasing infections and how to get the unvaccinated to get their shots.
Countries across the planet react
In Asia, numerous countries that saw early success in restricting the coronavirus’ biggest harms, now find themselves dealing with surges and tardy and pokey vaccination campaigns. This has led South Korea to slap on new public health restrictions on its mostly unvaccinated people. Japan is struggling to both showcase itself to the world with the impending Summer Olympic Games, while the people of the industrial powerhouse live with a declared state of emergency caused by a coronavirus spike.
The government in Tokyo, which has gone to-and-fro with its plans for the Olympics, has decided on the eve of the Games to hold the events with thousands of visiting athletes. Alas, they will compete in what commentators are calling TV sport — the competitions will go on and will be broadcast but with no audiences, Japanese or international. Athletes must follow rigorous health and testing regimens. They will see little of joyous global camaraderie that is a historic hallmark of the Olympics. Fears are running high that participants who have trained long and hard may get disqualified due to stray coronavirus exposure and positive testing, and that the legendary spectacle may not only be diminished but become a super spreader event for the host Japanese.
In Europe, there also is rising concern about variants and the unchecked pandemic. It is making Australians nervous. And in the developing world — notably across Africa and the hard-hit Indian subcontinent — anger is increasing that wealthy countries like the United States have vaccine stockpiles while the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the world’s poor.
The vaccines protect against variants
U.S. health officials insist that vaccines in use now not only are safe, but they are effective against viral mutations, including Delta and the new variant known as Lambda. Drug companies say patients, particularly those with immune issues that may make vaccines less effective, may wish to talk to their doctors about getting a third shot. Though Big Pharma also is talking about clinical testing for, and potential rollouts of coronavirus booster shots, federal officials say this step is not yet needed.
In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated teachers and youngsters, contrary to previous guidance, need not cover their faces in the confined space of school classrooms. The CDC is pushing parents, students, and schools to return this fall to regular, in-person classes and education.
The continued push to greater normality, of course, will be contingent on the continued quelling of the pandemic, especially through tough, individual-by-individual efforts to sway the unvaccinated.
The nation will wait to see if the relaxed July Fourth weekend will cause a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — as previous holidays have. Surges are under way in states, notably in their rural areas, where vaccination rates have lagged. In Southern California, authorities have expressed concern that, despite relatively high rates of vaccination and bad earlier surges that may have increased the numbers of people who have some viral protection, cases are rising in African American communities and across Los Angeles, the nation’s most populous country.
The pandemic, overall, has slowly shifted to firm, troubling trends taking hold: The disease afflicts more younger, typically healthier people now, as older populations started getting the vaccine early and significant percentages of the more vulnerable group are now vaccinated. Sadly, the red-blue split on vaccination is not improving, with areas that showed strong support for former President Trump lagging, sometimes badly, in getting shots.
Unwavering message for the unvaccinated
It is worth repeating, and emphatically: Those who are getting sick, those who are getting ill enough to require hospitalization, and those who are dying are the unvaccinated. That is the overwhelming statistical reality. “Breakthrough” cases are occurring, experts say, but the vaccinated largely have milder, less serious coronavirus cases, and they are not dying from the disease as the unvaccinated are.
The unvaccinated, experts say, put themselves at huge risk of serious infection, if they do not maintain precautions like distancing, face covering, and hand hygiene and act as if they have the high protection of vaccine or even the lesser and limited safeguard of having had a diagnosed Covid-19 case.
It also is true, in Cameroon, Cambodia, Colorado, or the District of Columbia: The coronavirus mutations are on the rise and the unvaccinated imperil themselves, their loved ones, and the rest of us because their unprotected status potentially allows them to be sources for new viral variants that may spread more easily, grow more readily in the body, and cause greater damage, including death, to those infected.
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. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms.