Bearing Witness to the Pandemic June 2021

Weeks of June 1-12, 2021

COVID cases continue their rapid decline across the country, although states with low vaccination rates are seeing the majority of new infections and deaths. The daily average count is now running 14,000. This is still worrisome as from each new day of infections we can count on 1-2% of those dying. The average daily death count in the US is stubbornly holding around 300-400 with an increasing percentage of younger victims.

The rate of vaccination in the US continues to fall well before we have hit herd immunity levels. We are vaccinating less than 400,000 per day, down from the low millions two months ago. It’s unlikely the country will meet Biden’s goal of having a 70% fully vaccinated rate by July 4. While there are over a dozen states with rates of 70% or more, the country overall is stuck at an average below 50%. And some states, mostly in the deep south, have rates in the 30s.

State and local governments are resorting to a number of promotions to encourage the hesitant to take the shot. They include lottery type drawings, marijuana joints, shots of liquor and other promotions. More businesses and campuses are announcing they will require staff or students to be vaccinated when returning back to their offices or classrooms.

However, that has not been enough to persuade those who still resist. As a result there are millions of doses in storage that are coming up on their expiration date. What a civic tragedy on top of a medical tragedy that we still have people dying, mostly now the unvaccinated, while we have billions around the world desperate to get vaccinated.

President Biden announced that the US would send 500 million does to over 100 countries in the next year. Other members of the G7 in their annual meeting added another 500 million for a total of 1 billion doses. That is a great number but still far short of the 11 billion doses the WHO estimates are needed to vaccinate the world. The good news is that in just 6 months time over 1.7 billion doses have been administered around the world. That is truly astonishing feat of technology, research, policy, and government action.

In the middle of the month the total number of deaths in the US from the pandemic crossed a heartbreaking and grim 600,000. That is equivalent to the population of a major US city like Baltimore or Milwaukee. And about the same as all those who died from cancer in 2019.

Another study has found that people of color die from COVID at a younger age than whites.  Adjusting for age differences the CDC said that Latinos, Blacks, and Native Americans were 2-3 times more likely to die of COVID once they became sick than whites. Lack of access to health care, preexisting conditions, employment type, and socio-economic disparities were said to be contributing factors. And vaccination rates lag far behind for some of these vulnerable populations.

Analysis of Red Cross blood donation samples from December 2019 show that the virus was already circulating in the US several months before public health officials realized it. And still three months before a world pandemic was declared.

Americans have returned to travelling. Over 2 million flew on one day early in the month compared to less than 100,000 a day in the spring of  2020.

Another new vaccine, this time from Novavax, has reported that its two-shot regimen is 90% effective, comparable with that of Pfizer and Moderna. This latest vaccine is easier to store and ship and will be most valuable in the developing world where less than 1% have received any shot.

Week of June 13-19

While the majority of Americans are acting like the pandemic is over, it is not. The Delta variant is rapidly growing across the US as it did in India and now counts for about 10% of all cases.  It is more contagious, more infectious, and more deadly, especially to those without full vaccination or even just one shot of the two required.

Many states and cities, including rural counties of Missouri, are still well under 50% vaccination rates and as a consequence experiencing rising hospitalizations. Those regions with high rates continue to see a decrease in illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.   The science and facts could not be more clear. Over 600,000 fellow Americans have fallen ill and died. Yet, there are millions who think it is just too damn much to ask of them to take the shot. Many of them are said to be evangelical Christians. I’m not sure what Bible and Christ they profess to be following, but it is not the ones I worship.

Over 300 million shots have now been administered in the US with just under 170 million Americans, about 65% of all adults, have received at least one dose. It appears the country will fall short of President Biden’s goal of having 70% of all Americans fully vaccinated by the July 4th holiday.

The Biden Administration announced it will spend over $3B to accelerate the development of  antiviral pills to treat COVID-19. As of now there is no reliable widely available treatment for someone who falls ill to COVID.

June 20-30

The average daily death count continues to fall and is now consistently below 300. A number not seen since March 2020. New cases are running just above10,000 a day down from 250,000 per day in January. But there are still hotspots, like my own stubborn regressive state of Missouri where many rural counties have full vaccination rates less than 25%. The fully vaccinated rate for the country remains stuck below 50%. And this after 600,000 people have died.

Infections that breakthrough the vaccines are exceedingly rare. Yet sadly and ever so avoidable, most COVID deaths in the US are now the unvaccinated. In May of the over 850,000 hospitalizations fewer than 1,500 of them were vaccinated, a rate of less than .2%. It is reported that 99% of those who are dying are the unvaccinated.

While tens of millions in the US refuse to take the shot, the citizens of the poorest countries around the world are begging to take our excess vaccines. And President Biden is responding with allocating another 60 million doses to the international COVAX alliance. Health officials say that some 11 billion doses will be needed around the world, but now a year and a half into the pandemic, only 3 billion have been administered.

The rapid spread of the more transmissible delta variant – some say twice as contagious – is causing Europe and Asia to go backwards with new travel restrictions and lockdowns. Mask requirements are being reinstated and quarantines for travelers enforced. The summer that many thought this would be all over is anything but for those who have been paying attention.

The difference in vaccination rates across the US is becoming even larger, not smaller. Many counties in blue progressive states have full vaccination rates in excess of 70%, while rural communities in red states, mostly in the south, have rates as low as 25%. The reluctance, reticence, or ignorance of so many to take a shot is only keeping the pandemic alive with the possibility that a variant will arise that breaks through the current vaccines.

The month ends with states like Arkansas, Missouri, and Nevada seeing infection rates double with scenes of full rural ERs and ICUs diverting patients to urban hospitals. All while state legislators in these states file bills to restrict or punish those cities which have enforced mask mandates and business closures. It is absolutely madness and criminal behavior.

The above news items have been taken from a number of local, regional, national and international news media  including print, broadcast, and digital sources, but no social media. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

The featured image is from the CDC COVID Data Tracker showing rates of vaccination per 100,000 population.

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