This chart shows that once 70% of the population gets at least one shot and mask compliance is very good: you can beat this virus.
Pfizer on Monday announced that testing showed that its COVID-19 vaccine was “safe” and “well tolerated” by children ages 5 to 11 and “robust neutralizing antibody responses” were observed.
The pharmaceutical company said that a “favorable safety profile” had been observed in its trial of the vaccine among children under the age of 12. For its trial, the company used doses a third of what is administered to people ages 12 and up.
“Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine. We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said.
“Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. – underscoring the public health need for vaccination. These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] and other regulators with urgency,” he added.
Pfizer’s trial included 2,268 participants between the ages of 5 and 11. According to the company, the doses resulted in side effects comparable to what was observed among the trial for patients ages 16 to 25. It also said that it expects to include its results in an upcoming submission to the FDA for emergency use authorization.
In the U.S., no COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for children under the age of 12, leaving many children and the adults who are in close proximity to them particularly vulnerable during the most recent surge brought on by the delta variant.
National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins on Sunday said he believed parents and teachers should be placed in the same category as health care workers in terms of COVID-19 risk, due to their close contact with children who are ineligible to be vaccinated.
In August, the number of pediatric hospitalizations in the U.S. due to COVID-19 reached a record high of nearly 2,000. While children are generally believed to be less likely to develop severe cases of the coronavirus, new variants continue to pose the potential threat of causing more severe symptoms.
This announcement comes shortly after an advisory panel for the FDA voted last week in favor of recommending a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people over 65 and in certain high-risk groups. The panel voted against administering a third dose to all vaccine-eligible people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 75 percent of the eligible population — ages 12 and up — has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Around 64 percent of those over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.
We May Be in for a Repeat of Last Winter
It may feel like eons ago, but try to recall summer 2020: While there were coronavirus surges in some parts of the country, national case rates were low. In some areas, the virus almost faded away entirely. But of course, the respite didn’t last. Cases began rising again in the fall of 2020, peaking at an average of more than 250,000 per day in January 2021.
The U.S. may be in for something even worse this year, my colleague Chris Wilson warns.
After a heartbreakingly bad summer, the virus’ spread appears to be ebbing, Chris writes. As of today, the U.S. is reporting about 145,000 diagnoses per day—too high for comfort, but at least a modest downward trend from over 160,000 daily cases at the end of August. In many hotspot states, diagnoses are significantly lower than they were a month or two ago.
But kids are now returning to school, cooler weather will force social gatherings indoors and holiday travel season will soon be upon us. With the highly contagious Delta variant now the dominant strain and millions of Americans still unvaccinated, we may be heading for a repeat of last year.
Of course, the situation isn’t exactly the same. More than half the population (and counting) is fully vaccinated, and many other people have at least some level of natural immunity after surviving an infection. That will certainly help keep cases down, but it may not be enough. As Chris points out, seven U.S. states set new daily case records this summer, even with vaccines widely available. As long as there are millions of unvaccinated people in the U.S., the virus will find a way to spread—particularly when it’s as contagious as the Delta variant.
So what can you do? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the advice is the same as ever: get vaccinated if you haven’t, get your kids vaccinated if they’re old enough, wear masks if you gather with people indoors and stay home if you feel unwell.
President Joe Biden’s announcement Thursday that broadly expanded mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or at least compulsory weekly testing is a sign, possibly, that the administration sees the writing on the wall. Even with tentative but promising signs that the fourth wave of surging cases in COVID-19 in the United States, dating back to the first days of summer, was waning, without drastic measures, the fifth will be catastrophically worse.
The new requirements are estimated to affect about 100 million people, including most federal workers and a substantial number of private sector employees—many of whom are already vaccinated. This would largely affect working-age residents (age 18-64), who currently number above 200 million, of whom 59.8% are vaccinated, according to TIME’s analysis of daily figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves more than 80 million who remain unvaccinated, though the White House orders will only cover a fraction of them.
The question is now: What happens this fall and winter, when children are at school and Americans once again travel for the holidays? In spite of desperate warnings from the CDC that people stay home for last year’s holiday, they largely did not, which led to the third spike in cases, which reached heights that dwarfed the first two. That doesn’t bode well for Christmas 2021, especially given that, in this current, fourth wave, seven states have already surpassed their previous peaks in cases (with another four doing nearly as poorly):
Within the next several days, we may see a modest surge from travel over the Labor Day weekend, but the real test will come in about two months—still all too soon. The holidays always sneak up on us. Under one possibility, many millions of Americans may be bolstered by a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, though this will be scant protection for those who have yet to receive a first.
Evidence that surging cases could inspire more unvaccinated Americans to change their mind was initially encouraging, but did not extend indefinitely. Should the fourth wave recede considerably, it may take a fifth to convince a significantly greater number.
Not a typo: Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die of COVID than those who’ve gotten the shot, the CDC found.
By the numbers: Of 37,948 hospitalizations in 13 jurisdictions studied between April and July, 2,976 patients— or about 8% — were vaccinated, Axios’ Noah Garfinkel reports.
- Of 6,748 deaths, 616 — or about 9% — were people who were fully vaccinated.
The three vaccines “showed continued robust protection for all adults — greater than 82 percent — for hospitalization, emergency room and urgent care trips,” The Washington Post reports.
- Another study found the Moderna vaccine most effective against Delta. But Pfizer and J&J also worked.
Earlier this week, David States and Bill Gardner argued that the U.S. should lead the developed nations in a program to immunize the entire human population. The Washington Post reported that President Biden is expected to call for a global vaccine summit conference.
David and Bill wrote that we should do this because it would save many lives. Perhaps this is all that needs to be said. We also argued that the U.S. stood to benefit if we could substantially reduce the number of global covid cases. This would reduce U.S. coronavirus exposure and slow the rate of evolution of new coronavirus variants. The economic cost to the U.S. of a more severe pandemic could easily be greater than the cost of making and distributing the vaccine. If so, the global vaccination effort would pay for itself.
There is, however, another moral argument for global vaccination, this one tied to 9/11 and the ensuing global war on terror. Since 9/11, the U.S. has engaged in 20 years of warfare in countries across the world.
The consequences of that war have been catastrophic. According to the Watson Institute at Brown University,
At least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan… The U.S. post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 38 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria. This number exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.
Of course, much of that violence was committed by al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Syrian government. Some of the civil wars that have followed 9/11 might have happened anyway. Nevertheless, Americans failed to limit their 9/11 response to the specific individuals who carried out the attacks. This was a principal cause of the ensuing death and displacements.
So now, the U.S. is known not only for baseball and democracy but also for drone strikes and torture. If we led an effort to vaccinate the world, it would be one of the largest humanitarian actions in history. We should do this to set an example and balance the effects of the global war on terror.
After a calmer start to the summer, the Delta variant is eroding consumer confidence as COVID-19 surges across many parts of the US once again. Using the latest data from Morning Consult’s Consumer Confidence Index, the graphic above shows the fluctuations in consumer confidence levels across the last year.
The most recent COVID surge has caused a five-point drop in confidence in the past month and, with cases still rising, we expect this trend to continue into the fall. Notably, with renewed masking guidance and increasing reports of breakthrough infections, confidence has dropped more among fully vaccinated individuals than among the unvaccinated.
Consumers’ comfort levels aren’t only dropping when it comes to daily activities, like grocery shopping or dining at a restaurant, but also with respect to healthcare. A recent survey from Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock finds that while consumers feel safer visiting healthcare settings in August 2021 than they did back in January, more than a third of consumers report the current COVID situation is making them less likely to seek non-emergency care, and 44 percent say they are more likely to pursue virtual care alternatives.
Health systems must be able to seamlessly “dial up” or “dial down” their virtual care capabilities in order to meet fluctuating consumer demand and avoid another wave of missed or deferred care.
About 8,000 Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic Health System employees have requested black ID badge reels to indicate they are fully vaccinated, the health system told Becker’s Aug. 11.
The nine-hospital health system, which has more than 12,000 employees, started offering the black reels in July. Many Marshfield employees are already required to wear white reels. However, the new black reels are voluntary. Employees who have them may meet in person, but must be masked, if all meeting attendees are vaccinated, the health system said.
“We all look forward to having the opportunity to interact with co-workers outside of the virtual world,” said health system spokesperson Jeff Starck. “The badge reels are a way for more personal interaction and create a sense of normalcy for many employees during what has been a challenging, mostly virtual work environment. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Mr. Starck said that some employees may not have not asked for the new reels because they use clips or other devices to display their name badges. Employees who work off-site and don’t attend in-person meetings may not have requested them since they haven’t needed them, and some employees who are vaccinated simply may not want to identify themselves, he speculated.
Marshfield Clinic announced Aug. 4 that it would require employees to become fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 15.
As of Aug. 11, about 72 percent of employees are vaccinated, although the health system said that number will rise as it receives proof of vaccination from employees who were inoculated outside the health system.
The highly contagious variant of COVID-19 is considered at least two times more contagious than the previously dominant alpha strain, and experts say the increased transmissibility has likely fueled the surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide.
But much is still unknown about delta as scientists scramble to better understand the strain.
Here’s what we know about the delta strain and how it blunted earlier momentum in the fight against the coronavirus.
Delta is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 strains
Delta’s contagiousness is considered key to its domination, having spread to at least 117 countries after first being detected in India. Like other viruses, COVID-19 is evolving, particularly through unplanned mutations.
A study from the United Kingdom in May suggested the delta strain could be 60 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant, which was already more contagious than the original strain.
But experts are split on that figure, with some saying delta could be more transmissible and others saying it could be less.
“You don’t necessarily want to attribute that all to the virus. You know, a lot of it may reflect the people as well,” said David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Researchers aren’t certain about what makes the delta variant more transmissible, but there are some clues.
Michael Farzan, head of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, said one of the variant’s advantages is that it can more strongly attach to a certain receptor when spreading in the body.
“This is one of the reasons why the virus … in a person gets made at a higher level, meaning that there’s a lot more being spit out or coughed out, meaning that it’s more likely to hit the next person,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has its own figures illustrating how the strain became so prevalent this summer. The agency’s latest projection is that 97.4 percent of all coronavirus cases come from all the different lineages of the delta variant, as of the week ending last weekend.
That marks an astronomical increase from the 1.6 percent estimated at the beginning of May and the 14.1 percent from the beginning of June.
Most people infected with COVID-19 at this point won’t know for sure whether they contracted the delta strain since available testing doesn’t make the distinction between strains — it only shows whether the virus itself is present.
It has a higher magnitude of viral loads
Health experts are examining the delta variant’s viral load, the measure of how much virus a person carries and can potentially transmit, compared to previous COVID-19 strains.
A study from China suggested that the strain’s viral load could be more than 1,000 times higher than the original strain, which Fauci on Thursday said “is a mechanistic reason why you have such a tremendous increase in transmissibility.”
Basically a higher viral load can make it more likely that an infected person can “shed” the virus, allowing someone nearby to contract it.
“If a little droplet that you sent out, it has more particles and that means it’s more likely to infect the next person over and it’s more likely to infect the next person over more times,” Farzan said.
Dowdy of Johns Hopkins cautioned that other variables, including people’s behavior, may be influencing how scientists understand delta’s viral load. With more people relaxing their COVID-19 precautions and interacting with others indoors, those same people could contract more of the virus than they might otherwise.
A study of a Massachusetts outbreak indicated that delta led to fully vaccinated people having a similar viral load compared to the unvaccinated, sparking the CDC to update its mask guidance late last month.
The outbreak on Cape Cod, where nearly three-quarters of confirmed cases were among fully vaccinated people, suggested that vaccinated people could potentially transmit and spread the delta variant. But researchers said at the time that microbiological studies would be needed to confirm whether vaccinated individuals can transmit the strain.
Vaccines are still effective against delta
Studies have found that at least five vaccines, including all three used in the U.S., are effective against the delta variant in lab and real-world settings, Fauci said on Thursday.
It was previously unclear whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose instead of two, was equally effective. But a study released last week found the immune response lasted at least eight months, resulting in the first real-world data for the vaccine, Fauci said.
Recent studies have indicated that vaccines may see a very slight dip in effectiveness against symptomatic versions of the coronavirus caused by the delta variant. The COVID-19 vaccines, like any other, are also not perfect at preventing all delta infection and illness.
But scientists agree that studies have demonstrated that the vaccinated population is less likely to get infected and much less likely to be hospitalized or die from the delta variant than the unvaccinated.
“The only reason our case numbers are lower now than they were back in December is because half of our population has been fully vaccinated,” Dowdy said.
Still more to learn
Experts acknowledge there is much more to learn about the delta variant.
“A big thing is we still don’t know how much of what we’re seeing is due to the virus versus due to behavior,” Dowdy said. “That makes a big difference because things that are due to the virus, we can’t really change as a society.”
Although there’s a growing number of studies, not all scientists are certain that the variant itself necessarily causes more serious illness among the unvaccinated, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths. It’s also unclear whether the strain is sparking more severe illness among children as pediatric hospital admissions have picked up.
Additionally, scientists have more analysis to do on under-researched mutations that may give the virus more of an advantage, Farzan said.
Just a month ago, even as signs of a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. were blossoming in the lower Midwest, the memory of a long, miserable winter kept us warm. Even places with burgeoning case rates were far below their catastrophic peaks over the holidays, when a combination of cold weather and defiant travelers contributed to a third wave in infections and deaths that drowned out the previous two spikes in April and July of 2020.
This is regrettably no longer the case. In four states—Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida—the current number of daily new COVID-19 infections, averaged across seven days, has surpassed that winter peak, even with a substantial percentage of the population having received a complete dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine (though not nearly as many as public officials would prefer).
Hawaii is something of an anomaly, as its winter peak was not nearly as high as in colder, more accessible regions. But several other states threaten to join this quartet in the near future. Oregon’s daily rate of new infections is at 36.5 per 100,000 residents, or 99% of the peak value on Dec. 3, 2020. Nationwide, the rate is 37.7, just under 50% of the winter peak of 76.5.
While plenty of states remain far below the winter peaks, as the Delta variant tears across the country, we can expect more and more states to experience a fourth wave that crests higher than the third, even as new outbreaks are inspiring more vaccine holdouts to hold out their biceps and breakthrough infections, while frightening and non-trivial, remain reasonably rare.
What is perhaps most sobering about this surge is that COVID-19-related deaths, which typically lag behind case surges by about two weeks, are starting to rise again. No state has yet surpassed the winter peak in deaths, but at 65%, Louisiana very well may. That figure is still 15% nationwide, well below the Jan. 13, 2021 peak of 1.04 fatalities per 100,000 people. It is currently at 0.16.