Two steps forward, one step back on vaccinations

Eradicating global infectious disease: Two steps forward and one step back?  | Science Policy For All

As states rush to fully reopen businesses, and Americans leave their masks at home in greater numbers, it appears that the feared “fourth surge” of COVID is now underway in many parts of the country. Coronavirus cases are up in half of all states, and up nationally by 9 percent compared to last week. While the latest wave appears to be much less deadly—largely targeting younger people who haven’t yet been vaccinated—it adds urgency to the effort to get shots in arms as quickly as possible.

The good news: that’s happening. Today the US surpassed the milestone of 200M vaccinations given, with nearly a quarter of the population now fully vaccinated (including nearly two-thirds of those over age 65). The progress on vaccines comes as the Johnson & Johnson COVID jab is sidelined, over safety concerns stemming from a small number of rare blood-clotting cases in younger women that caused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to urge states to pause the use of the shot. Wednesday’s inconclusive meeting of the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meant an additional 7 to 10 days of limbo for the J&J vaccine, drawing criticism from experts who warned that the negative publicity could undermine confidence in vaccines among the general population, both in the US and around the world.
Count us among those skeptical of the decision to pull back on the J&J vaccine, which plays a pivotal role in the campaign against COVID, given that it’s a single-dose vaccine that can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, making it more easily distributed than the two-dose mRNA vaccines. While the blood clotting cases are serious, and merit investigation, the odds of suffering a vaccine-related blood clot are far outweighed by an individual’s risk of death or severe complications from COVID itself, let alone the chances of getting a blood clot from other medications (such as oral contraceptives). 

It was a big week for innumeracy, unfortunately: headlines abounded about the CDC’s discovery of 5,800 “breakthrough” COVID cases, in which fully vaccinated people still contracted the disease. Unsurprisingly, the numerator got the headlines, not the denominator—the 80M people who’ve been fully vaccinated. Your chances of hitting a hole-in-one as an amateur golfer are better than the chances of getting COVID after being fully vaccinated. Furthermore, of those 5,800 people infected after being fully vaccinated, only 7 percent were hospitalized, and 74 died. Each a tragedy, to be sure—but we’ll take those odds any day.

Get vaccinated as soon as you can.

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