Bearing Witness to the Pandemic October 2021

The month starts with the nation passing 700,000 deaths from COVID. And tragically, a public health expert suggested that nearly 100,000 of these fatalities occurred after vaccines were widely available. Daily death rates are still near 2,000 but falling now that the 4th Delta wave is receding. Nearly all of those who are hospitalized and dying are unvaccinated. Sad. Very sad.

Some 46 million Americans have now been infected by the Coronavirus. The US still leads the world in cumulative deaths and deaths per million of population. Around the world nearly 5 million are reported to have died with COVID from over 250 million cases. But in good news, India has administered more than 1 billion doses, an amazing accomplishment. However, still less than one-third of India’s adult population is fully vaccinated.

A year and a half into the pandemic, record numbers of deaths are still being reported in some parts of the world.  Russia recorded early 1,000 new deaths in one day early during the month as Less than 30% of all Russians are fully vaccinated. Over 200,000 have died from nearly 8 million cases in Russia.

In major cities across the US, COVID has become the third leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease. Average life expectancies in the US have decreased by an average of 2 years. Some segments did much worse than others. Black women saw a drop of nearly 4 years, more than twice that of white women.

And for rural Americans it is even worse due to poorer overall health and reduced access to health care with vaccination rates often below 30%. Experts report than 1 in 434 rural residents have died from COVID compared to 1 in 513 urban Americans.

The medical journal Pediatrics reports that some 120,000 American children have been orphaned from the deaths of their parents or guardians. Even worse is that between 25-33% of those children were from Black or Hispanic families.

Pfizer has asked FDA regulators to approve their vaccine for children age 5-11. This follows the recent CDC approval for children ages 12-18.

Americans do not agree on much these days, but the majority agree that misinformation is rampant about COVID, the pandemic, vaccines, and who should ultimately be trusted for accurate information. Most agreed that social media companies were largely to blame.

The demand for vaccinations in the US is back to rising, but not because the 67 million unvaccinated adults have changed their minds. It is due largely to those eligible for a third booster shot. Over a million shots are being administered some days during the month. Over 55% of all the total US population is now fully vaccinated.

As the month progressed, the Delta surge continued to wane. New case counts have fallen from 100,000 per day to under 70,000. Hospitalizations and death rates have fallen by 20%.  Health officials hope that the drop continues such that the next low-level plateau is sufficiently low enough to head off another wave, which would be the fifth.

Drug maker Merck has announced that they have developed an experimental pill for those infected with COVID-19 that can reduce hospitalizations and deaths by half. A regiment of this new medication must be taken soon after becoming infected. If approved, this would become the first treatment for the disease that shows great promise.

Treatments are especially needed because we live in a country with ideologue idiots serving as Governors. Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott has issued an executive order barring vaccination mandates by government bodies or businesses. So getting treatment after they get sick, instead of vaccines before, will be the only remedy.

Travel is still being disrupted across the globe. In the US over 70% of respondents to a survey said that the pandemic has affected their travel plans and routines. More report they will travel by car to local destinations as leisure travel by ship and air are still considered to be of high risk.

The US formally reopened land borders with Canada and Mexico this month after a 19-month freeze. Up to now, border crossings were limited to essential workers and commerce. Fully vaccinated travelers will now be allowed entrance.

Because the coronavirus can impact nearly every organ in the human body, doctors are finding the symptoms of “Long COVID” can be vary greatly between patients. Like COVID itself, vaccinations can lessen the chances for developing long-haul difficulties, but it does not reduce them completely.

The pandemic has transformed individual jobs and the job market forever. More jobs will become hybrid with work at home and in the office. And as the economy picks up steam, millions of workers are quitting less desirable jobs for new employers, early retirement, or raising a family. Over 4 million women were reported to have left the work force during 2020 as part of what has been called the “great resignation.” Consumers experience this worker shortage every day with a shortage of workers in stores, restaurants, and offices as well as bare shelves and delayed shipments. Many workers are just reluctant to pick back up where they left off in lousy demeaning jobs. Some older workers have just retired. Union workers have gone out on strike seeking better wages and working conditions. Who would have imagined that the end of the pandemic the economy would experience a lack of workers instead of a lack of jobs. As a result, the unemployment rate is less than 5%. Some good news indeed.

A new surprise finding is that a commonly used and low-cost anti-depressant, Fluvoxamine, has been found to fight the virus and keep some who are infected out of the hospital. In one study patients who received the drug were 32% less likely to be hospitalized than those who received a placebo.  Researchers have yet to find out why or how this works.

The CDC has expanded the pool of people who are eligible for receiving a third booster shot. In addition to those 65 and older, it now includes anyone who is at risk from their jobs or has a underlying health issue. Boosters are also now approved for those who received the Moderna or J&J vaccine, expanding on the approval from last month for those who had the Pfizer shot.

The FDA has given its approval to the mix and match of COVID booster shots. For those who received a J&J may choose that traditional type of vaccine again, or take a Moderna or Pfizer mRNA type vaccine.

The originally approved vaccines are all said to still be working to minimize serious illnesses and deaths for those suffering from the Delta variant, even more than six months out. As a result, the boosters now being administered have not been tweaked for the Delta strain, but are the same. Will they be changed for future mutations?

The death due to COVID complications of former Secretary of State Colin Powell has caused alarm as he was reported to have been vaccinated early on. It seems that he was immunocompromised by another serious health conditions, multiple myeloma, which likely kept the vaccine from working to protect him. This further reinforces the need for all to practice social distancing and wear a mask to help protect the most vulnerable among us. That seems so little to ask of Americans in honor of General Powell, a decorated military veteran who risked his life for us.

While it was hoped that infections and deaths were coming down all across the world, that is not the case. As the month ends they continue to rise in Russia, and have now started to do so again in Britain which had avoided the summer wave the US experienced. The UK had relaxed restrictions over the summer to reopen its economy. Schools were also reopened without mask requirements despite their being no approved vaccines for the youngest students.  Now, case counts are on the way to 100,000 per day leaving thousands more who will eventually die. Herd immunity is elusive, even though some 80% of the eligible population have received at least one shot. Many of these may be breakthrough cases due to waning efficacy from the prevalent AstraZeneca vaccine many would have received more than 6 months ago.

At the end of the month, the FDA approves Pfizer’s request for children 5-11 to become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  So far over 8,000 children have become so sick from COVID that they were hospitalized and over 100 died.  But as with adult hospitalizations and deaths, the majority of these cases had serious medical conditions such as obesity and asthma. And also like adults, children of color were more likely to be stricken. A surprise finding is that one study found 42% of children studied had already been infected with the virus. Experts warn that having once had COVID does not protect you with natural immunity from getting it again.

In an alarming study, Iowa wildlife scientists have discovered that the virus was present in 80% of several hundred white-tailed deer they sampled across the state. A previous federal study found that antibodies for the virus showed up in less than half of the deer sampled in four states. Genetic sequencing validated that it was likely the same virus that came from humans and not from another animal. While the SARS virus is certainly known to exist in the wild, as its origins are thought to be from bats, the fact that it has become so prevalent among wildlife is worrisome to public health officials. The concern is that new mutants will arise then go from animal to humans once again, and another cycle starts all over, perhaps with variants resistant to the current vaccines.

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 trends in the number of daily deaths.

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