Category Archives: Delta Variant

COVID Hospitalizations in the US Soar to More Than 100,000, Vaccines and The Idiocy regarding Ivermectin!

Ralph Ellis reminded us that more than 100,000 people in the United States were hospitalized with COVID-19 this past few weeks — a figure not reported since late January, when vaccines were not widely available.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed 100,317 COVID hospital patients on Wednesday, a figure that grew to 101,050 on Thursday. 

That’s about six times the number of COVID hospitalizations from about nine weeks ago, CNN says.

The HHS data shows COVID hospitalizations are highest across the Southeast, with more than 16,800 patients in Florida, 14,000 in Texas, 6,200 in Georgia, 3,000 in Alabama, and 2,300 in Missouri.

In comparison, California, the most populous state, has about 8,700 people hospitalized with COVID, the HHS said.

Alarmingly, many of these COVID patients are severely ill. About 30% of the nation’s intensive care unit beds are now occupied by COVID patients, HHS data shows.

Infections, deaths, and hospitalizations have increased since early summer as the Delta variant spread across the nation, especially in places with low vaccination rates. 

Health experts have said the majority of the hospitalized people are unvaccinated. Research shows that vaccinated people who become infected with the Delta variant generally don’t become as sick as unvaccinated people.

Paul Offit, MD, an FDA vaccine advisory committee member, said the current availability of the vaccine makes the high number of hospitalizations especially tragic.

“The numbers now…are actually in many ways worse than last August,” Offit said on CNN. “Last August, we had a fully susceptible population, (and) we didn’t have a vaccine. Now, we have half the country vaccinated…but nonetheless the numbers are worse. The Delta variant is one big game changer.”

Sources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Hospital Utilization.”

CNN: “With more than 100,000 people in the hospital with Covid-19 in the US, this August is worse than last, expert says.”

From Cancer to COVID: Is There a Fix for Willful Medical Ignorance?

Dr. H. Jack West pointed out something very interesting as he relayed an observation. He patient saw a patient for a second opinion after developing metastatic disease, but he’d initially been diagnosed with locally advanced non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). His oncologist had appropriately proposed treatment with concurrent chemoradiation followed by durvalumab. He listened to the rationale and the evidence, but he refused to pursue it, favoring alternative medicine instead.

A repeat scan several months later showed obvious progression. Even though it was potentially treatable — including with curative intent — he demurred again.

Several months down the line, he developed back pain heralding a new spinal metastasis. Only then did he accept that perhaps conventional, evidence-based anticancer therapy was worth pursuing. Of course, by that time the window of opportunity to treat with the hope of cure had closed.

But in other ways, it isn’t too late for him. He can at least benefit from subsequent treatments for advanced NSCLC. Too many other patients I’ve seen have eschewed conventional medicine so long that their poor performance status precludes standard therapies that would have been effective had they pursued them as something other than a final act of desperation.

Corollaries to Coronavirus                                                                                                                 Though this dynamic has existed for decades in oncology, the current rejection of the coronavirus vaccine, on a massive scale involving a significant minority of the US population, is a reflection of this same willful ignorance.

In 2008, I started a nonprofit organization — the Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education — dedicated to providing free, timely, and credible information to cancer patients and caregivers around the world.

It was based on the premise that if the lay public had access to the best information — in other words, the same content that informs experts and defines optimal patient management — patients would then be able to pursue these treatments to the extent that they were broadly available. And although this service and a growing number of similar efforts have since generated a virtual army of sophisticated patients (who have since become an important force in and of themselves), it has been humbling to recognize that this approach can’t help the many people who denigrate the very pursuit of evidence-based medicine.

The widespread rejection of COVID vaccines brings this into high relief for a couple of reasons. First, the selfishness of those who reject the vaccine affects not only the individual who makes that choice but the broader public. Their decision not only puts them at risk but also the unwitting person exposed to them later. At least with cancer, poor choices only affect those making them.

Another reason that COVID vaccination is such a flashpoint: everyone, including every public figure, now makes a public declaration of their support or suspicion of science and evidence-based medicine. And we are seeing an alarming fraction of people with access to very good information rejecting the evidence and our best opportunity to control the pandemic.

I am particularly disheartened that those who reject the science aren’t prone to change their views with better educational efforts. I recognize that there is a spectrum of resistance and that some of our colleagues have convinced family members and patients to reverse their prior anti-vaccine stance; but I wish it wasn’t so hard to overcome people’s biases against the establishment — biases that lead not only to self-harm but danger to the broader public.

We need to do more to understand what leads people to reject science, because it’s clearly not just ignorance and lack of better information. We have to recognize that this phenomenon is now a leading bottleneck in the progress of modern medicine, both in oncology and other settings.

I would love to learn what others think, including successes and more optimistic views — or to simply vent your frustrations with these issues.

Helping Patients Understand Breakthrough COVID Benefits Us All –Here’s how to approach the conversation.

I have been asked these questions multiple times about breakthrough infections from Covid by my patients and I thought that this would be a good time to review, especially recently with infection numbers and the discussion regarding booster shots. Dr. Gary C. Steben pointed out that the recent change in masking guidance from the CDC and reinstated public health measures from local and state governments have been met with frustration and defiance, with people understandably questioning why they got vaccinated if they have to go back to masking and distancing anyway. The answer is in the degree of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, and the explanation lies in the way vaccines work. We can help our patients understand this with three talking points:

1. The antibody levels in the bloodstream are completely helpless at preventing infection (saying it that way seems to get everybody’s attention!)

Neutralizing virus particles from the environment is the sole responsibility of the vaccine-induced antibodies in our respiratory, GI, and ocular secretions — our “frontline” defensive antibodies in our saliva, tears, nasal secretions, and pulmonary mucus. When exposed to airborne virus particles, these antibodies attach to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, physically preventing it from latching on to the ACE2 receptor on the surface of our respiratory epithelium and gaining entry to those cells to cause an infection. But that’s all we’ve got — if we are exposed to so many virus particles that all the antibodies in these secretions have attached themselves to virus particles, yet we continue to expose ourselves to new particles faster than we transport more antibodies into these secretions, our antibody defense gets overwhelmed, we inhale or come in contact with more virus particles than we are able to neutralize, and we get infected.

2. Circulating antibodies help to contain the infection

Once infected, the virus takes over the machinery of our cells to make more virus particles and release them, and that’s where our circulating vaccine-induced antibodies come in. They latch on to these newly minted particles to prevent them from infecting adjacent cells and from being exhaled. Therein, unfortunately, lies one of the Delta variant’s strong suits — it can reproduce itself so rapidly that our antibodies don’t slow it down much, and we see that when infected, vaccinated people are shedding virus similarly to unvaccinated folks.

3. Our vaccine-induced T-cell immunity limits disease severity

The third element of the response to the vaccine that you don’t hear as much about is the T-cell immunity that is induced. This arm of the immune system kills off our own infected cells — they’re a lost cause anyway, and will need to be replaced — and thereby limits the extent of disease. That’s why the vaccines remain effective at limiting the severity of disease, and the reason why we don’t see many vaccinated people among the hospitalized even as the number of vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant increases. That’s also why it’s so critical to get vaccinated — the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19. But it is not in the T-cell job description to go after viruses themselves. Vaccine-induced T-cells do not provide protection against getting infected; they only mitigate severity once infected.

So, the CDC revised its masking guidance because, as we’re seeing in places like Provincetown and Milwaukee’s Deer District, vaccinated people can both get and spread SARS-CoV-2. More and more vaccinated people are getting infected because they’re interpreting vaccination as carte blanche to return to pre-pandemic life without restriction and are exposing themselves to massive viral loads that overwhelm their immunity. Every single vaccinated person I spoke with during a telemedicine visit in July who got themselves infected at a Bucks championship game told me they would have taken more precautions had the meaning of vaccination been explained to them as I have above.

These principles add to the arguments surrounding whether to administer a third dose, as recently discussed. Many studies have shown that neutralizing antibody titers decline only slowly over months, while we continue to see blunted disease severity in those vaccinated individuals who get infected. Moreover, breakthrough infections are not only occurring in older people who are far out from their second dose. This suggests breakthrough infections may occur not so much because of waning immunity, but because of people’s behavior that exposes them to overwhelming viral loads, especially in the face of the new variants. If that’s the case, a third dose without behavior modification may not be enough to promote sufficient disease containment. We need data from our contact tracers on the circumstances under which breakthrough infections occurred to better inform the decision on a third dose.

I believe history will judge our response to the pandemic harshly for its reliance on mandates more than education. We physicians were not consulted appropriately early on in the pandemic for our expertise and community respect to help shape local and regional procedures tailored to maximize disease containment while mitigating economic impact. There remains no coordinated effort to promote local physician involvement in mitigation strategies, and we are seeing the fallout from that in the current surge. So we must take it upon ourselves to do everything we can to educate our patients by promoting evidence-based containment measures and offering common-sense explanations for COVID-19 and the vaccines.

This is the most important public health crisis of our careers and lifetimes, and the urgency of this situation will reach a whole new level if post-acute COVID syndrome (PACS) turns out to be a virus-triggered autoimmune response that intensifies with subsequent infections. I sure hope that will not be the case and there is no evidence for that yet, but we physicians don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out. We need to leverage the respect we’ve earned among our communities to do what we can to transcend the rhetoric and misinformation, and minimize the worsening catastrophe that we know COVID-19 can become. Now.

Anti-parasite drug for animals ivermectin flying off store shelves as COVID spikes- Ivermectin dispensing by retail pharmacies has increased’ the CDC says. After many hours of “discussions” with friends who have decided not to get vaccinated and instead an anti-parasitic drug used on horses, cows, sheep and dogs, I thought that it would be worth a discussion. Daniella Genovese reported that despite strict warnings from federal health officials, consumers around the country are still trying to get their hands on a drug commonly used to treat or prevent parasites in animals in order to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

The drug, ivermectin, has been reportedly flying off stores shelves in multiple states, including Texas and Oklahoma, even though it has not been approved for treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans. “Ivermectin dispensing by retail pharmacies has increased, as has use of veterinary formulations available over the counter but not intended for human use,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. “FDA has cautioned about the potential risks of use for prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the FDA said it has seen a “growing interest” in the drug and already received multiple reports of “patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses.” 

However, over a dozen stores in the Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas area have sold out of the medicine, The Dallas Morning News reported.  Noah Krzykowski, who manages the Irving Feed Store in Irving, Texas, told the outlet that he is seeing droves of new customers in search of the product.  “You can tell the difference between someone who has cattle and someone who doesn’t,” Krzykowski told the Morning News. “And we’re seeing a lot of people right now who don’t have cattle.” Meanwhile, Alex Gieger, who manages the Red Earth Feed and Tack in Oklahoma City, Kansas, told KOCO that the store has been flooded with requests for the drug. 

Scott Schaeffer, managing director of the Oklahoma Center Poison and Drug Information, told FOX Business they have already received seven calls this month regarding ivermectin. This is up from three calls in July.  “We’re more concerned that people are taking medication without the input of their physician/prescriber, and that there is no reliable evidence that ivermectin is effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID,” Schaeffer said. 

Ivermectin tablets are only approved by the FDA “to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms,” the agency said. According to the FDA, some forms of ivermectin are also approved to treat parasites like head lice and for skin conditions like rosacea while other forms are “used in animals to prevent heartworm disease and certain internal and external parasites.” 

The FDA said consumers should never use medications intended for animals. “It’s important to note that these products are different from the ones for people, and safe when used as prescribed for animals, only,” the FDA said. 

US Plans COVID-19 Booster Shots at 6 Months Instead of 8: WSJ

The Reuters Staff reported that U.S. health regulators could approve a third COVID-19 shot for adults beginning at least six months after full vaccination, instead of the previously announced eight-month gap, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Approval of boosters for three COVID-19 shots being administered in the United States — those manufactured by Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson — is expected in mid-September, the report said, citing a person familiar with the plans.

Pfizer and BioNTech have already started the application process for the approval of its booster shot in people 16 and older, saying it spurs a more than three-fold increase in antibodies against the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, U.S. regulators granted full approval to Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine. Moderna said on Wednesday it has completed the real-time review needed for a full approval for its jab in people 18 and above.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in her daily briefing that any such development would be under the purview of the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC said the government’s plan to administer booster shot depends on pending action from the Food and Drug Administration and recommendation to it from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The FDA, however, reiterated its joint statement from last week that said the government was gearing up to roll out the third shot from mid-September to Americans who had their initial course of two-dose vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer more than eight months ago.

The rollout would start if the FDA and the CDC decide that boosters are needed, U.S. officials had said.

But the next question is:

Are We Jumping the Gun on COVID Boosters?- Efficacy, safety, and ethical questions linger

Dr. Vinay Prasad points out that over the last weeks, the topic of COVID-19 booster shots — a third dose of mRNA vaccine for healthy Americans — has been thrust into the spotlight. The surgeon general, CDC director, Anthony Fauci, MD, and President Biden have announced that they wish for boosters to be available by late September for healthy adults who are 8 months out from their original two-dose series. While this will be contingent on an FDA evaluation to determine the “safety and effectiveness of the third dose,” a clear path forward has already been set. And just like everything else throughout the course of the pandemic, the choice has been made with a dearth of data and an abundance of political pressure.

Diminishing vaccine effectiveness supposedly makes the case for boosters. But there are two big questions here: First, what is current vaccine effectiveness? And second, what justifies boosters? Let’s consider these in turn.

What Is Vaccine Effectiveness Now?

We have to be honest, many vaccine effectiveness studies are poorly done. All studies compare the rate of getting a breakthrough infection among vaccinated people against the rate of infection in unvaccinated people. But there are some issues with this approach. First, as time goes on, more unvaccinated people have had and recovered from COVID-19 (and these individuals may be less likely to go on to get a shot). This means that their risk of getting COVID-19 a second time is far less than the typical unvaccinated person who has never been sick. Even if vaccines “work” as well as before, this factor alone will result in the appearance of diminishing vaccine effectiveness.

Second, the order of vaccination in all nations is non-random. The folks who got vaccinated first are often the oldest and most vulnerable people with frailty and senescent immune systems. Vaccine effectiveness after 6 months, 8 months, and 12 months increasingly compares older, frailer people who got vaccinated first against unvaccinated people. These older people may always have a slightly higher risk of breakthrough infections. This bias will also give the false appearance of diminishing vaccine effectiveness.

A third consideration: We’re looking at vaccine effectiveness, but for what? People don’t want to get severely ill from SARS-CoV-2 and don’t want to die, but it might be too much to ask that vaccines prevent the nucleotide sequence of SARS-CoV-2 from ever being in your nose. In other words, vaccine effectiveness against severe disease may be much higher than vaccine effectiveness against asymptomatic or mild infection. This matters a great deal — if the vaccines continue to be highly effective against risk of severe illness and death, is it really worth boosting people in the U.S. right now?

And putting this all together, the best estimates of vaccine effectiveness do, in fact, still show high protection against severe disease and death.

What Justifies Boosters?

No matter what vaccine effectiveness is against preventing COVID-19 illness generally, the important question for boosters is whether they further lower the risk of severe disease or death. The only way to show this is through randomized controlled trials of the size and duration to measure that outcome. It is entirely possible that vaccine effectiveness is not perfect over time, or slightly lower than initial trials, but it’s also possible that boosters do not further reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2. Only trials can answer this.

While emerging data from Israel suggest boosters may diminish the risk for COVID-19 infection and severe illness in people 60 and older, the data are not based on the types of studies we need. Pfizer has only submitted early trial results to the FDA to support their boosters, with phase III trial data forthcoming. But again, the data may be insufficient if severe outcomes are not captured.

Moreover, we have to consider the risk of new, compounding, and worse toxicity. Randomized trials and close observation will be needed to exclude worse safety signals, particularly increases in myocarditis and pericarditis. These rare adverse events are more common after the second mRNA dose — will they be even more common after dose three?

In short, diminished vaccine effectiveness does not make the case for boosters. A reduction in severe outcomes makes the case for boosters, but we have no such data to date.

Global Equity

There’s also the ethical question of how a wealthy nation can give its inhabitants a third dose when there are literally billions of vulnerable older people around the world who have not gotten any doses. The World Health Organization has begged nations not to do this, and history will judge us poorly if we pursue this. It is a human rights violation to direct limited mRNA supply and capabilities to third doses in the U.S. when the world remains vulnerable. Moreover, it is self-defeating. We are not safe from global variants.

Take a Step Back

Decisions about boosters have to be based in science and made by vaccine regulators. They should not be subject to the pressure of manufacturers, politicians, or political appointees. They should not be rushed. On Sunday television, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, was specifically asked if the third shot was safe. His response: “the plan is contingent on that…”

Excuse me? We don’t know that to be true, and yet, our top medical and public health experts are pushing for boosters? Drug safety expert Walid Gellad, MD, MPH, tweeted: “It was irresponsible to push for boosters in healthy people before safety review.”

Two days after the White House’s announcement, two people with knowledge of the FDA’s deliberation told The Washington Post that the agency was investigating myocarditis signal with the Moderna vaccination. Canadian data suggest the risk may be 2.5 times that of Pfizer’s vaccine. The timing of this internal information leaking to reporters naturally leads me to wonder if reviewers in the agency are attempting to counteract political pressure, and create space to conduct a thorough review of booster data.

Boosters are an important medical question. Their approval must have a favorable safety and efficacy profile. Only randomized trials measuring severe disease can show that. Still, recently the FDA that boosters for Pfizer is only recommended for people over 65 and those compromised.

Let’s wait for the next set of data from the Moderna post vaccination studies, which is expected by the end of November.

203 Doctors Told Us What They Actually Think Of COVID Vaccines, And Everyone Should Hear Their Answers

A growing refrain among vaccine skeptics is that they won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 because a handful of health scientists have told them they don’t have to.

Robert Malone, the self-proclaimed inventor of mRNA technology back in the 1980s, has been among those celebrated by the far right for voicing unproven concerns about COVID-19 vaccines to his 280,000-plus Twitter followers. While it’s easy to explain away an embittered, bruised-ego scientist, it’s much harder to dismiss the significant majority of healthcare professionals who support the vaccines and the preponderance of evidence backing them up.

Enter the anti-vaxxer’s latest unfounded claim: that most public health officials secretly don’t support vaccines. In fact, a friend of mine recently made a stunning declaration that she wholeheartedly believes: “Most experts are too afraid to speak up, but I suspect 9 out of 10 doctors would advise against COVID vaccines if you asked them privately.”

Though I could have readily dismissed such a callous and unsubstantiated statement, the journalist in me began to wonder whether I should.

After all, if a meaningful percentage of individuals with legitimate infectious disease and vaccination expertise were concerned, that would be worth reporting. Besides, I’d asked her to question her convictions, so shouldn’t I be willing to do the same?

With that in mind, I began researching epidemiologists, virologists, health department directors, pediatricians, infectious disease experts, and public health officials. I deemed it important to find such people in all 50 states and in counties that leaned both left and right in case politics had tainted anyone’s objectivity.

No one directed me where I should look nor which experts I could turn to; and I steered clear of anyone I’d seen making regular cable news appearances to ensure I was getting fresh perspectives from experts who may not have already spoken up.

In my research, I identified more than 200 such individuals, and, in the interest of taking up as little of their limited time as possible, decided to ask them all the same two yes or no questions with an invitation to elaborate if they chose to.

I also wanted them to know they could answer freely, so I offered anonymity — a condition that some appreciated and others waived.

My two questions were simply whether they believed the benefits of COVID-19 vaccinations outweigh any potential harms, and whether they’d recommended the shots to their own children if they had any in the 12–18-year-old age groups. Responses began pouring in almost immediately.

Over the next few days, I heard back from 203 of the doctors I’d reached out to. If my friend’s unfounded suspicions were correct, 183 of them should have recommended against vaccination.

Turns out the actual number against COVID vaccines was zero. And the number of vaccine experts who recommended the shots to me in our private, one-on-one interactions was a whopping 203.

None of the 203 responders raised a single concern about COVID vaccines for adults or for children. “The benefits outweigh the extremely rare harms by many miles,” one biostatistics researcher told me.

What’s more, many of the responders had a lot to say about the type of public health official who would use their academic credibility to steer people away from COVID-19 vaccines.

Abner told me she doesn’t actually know of any public health officials who have advocated against the vaccines; rather, the handful of fringe persons who have gained notoriety doing so are actually “lab scientists without any public health or epidemiological expertise. Being an expert in one area of science or medicine does not confer expertise in others.”

One health department director in Idaho put it even more bluntly: “Any public health official who discourages vaccination isn’t concerned about public health at all.”

CORRECTED-COVID SCIENCE-mRNA vaccines trigger backup immune response; some cancer drugs may help

Nancy Lapid summarized of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that have yet to be certified by peer review.

Antibodies wane but other immune defenses remain alert.

A new study may help explain why mRNA vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are more effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths than they are at preventing infection. Test-tube experiments on blood samples from 61 fully vaccinated adults showed that by six months, vaccine-induced antibodies that can immediately neutralize the virus had declined. But so-called memory B cells, which produce new antibodies if they encounter the virus later on, had increased and become better at recognizing viral variants, according to a report posted on Monday on bioRxiv https://bit.ly/3zoCSAY ahead of peer review. “Your immune system has a backup,” said study leader John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. B-cell production of antibodies might take a few days to get underway, but then these memory B cells “kick into action and prevent severe disease,” Wherry added.

Early data favors certain cancer treatments during pandemic

Certain cancer drugs may help protect patients with malignancies from being infected with the new coronavirus, preliminary data suggests. The drugs, known as mTOR/PI3K inhibitors and antimetabolites, target the parts of cells that the virus uses to enter and make copies of itself, including a “gateway” protein on cell surfaces called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The study of 1,701 cancer patients found that after taking underlying risk factors into account, patients treated with mTOR/PI3K inhibitors or ACE2-lowering antimetabolites were 47% less likely to test positive for the virus than patients who received other drug therapies. Gemzar (gemcitabine) from Eli Lilly appeared to be particularly promising, according to the report in JAMA Oncology https://bit.ly/38icqN6 on Thursday. The study does not prove that the drugs lowered infection rates, however, and much more research is needed to confirm their potential for protecting cancer patients from the coronavirus.

One in four infected LA residents had been vaccinated

From May through July 2021, as the Delta variant spread, 43,127 residents of Los Angeles County in California were diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infections. One in four had been fully vaccinated, though these patients had lower rates of hospitalization (3.2% versus 7.6%), intensive care (0.5% versus 1.5%) and need for machines to help with breathing (0.2% versus 0.5%) than unvaccinated patients, public health officials reported on Tuesday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report https://bit.ly/2XWWZIx. During the study period, the prevalence of the Delta variant rose from less than 9% to at least 87%, the authors note. As of July 25, hospitalization rates were 29 times higher for unvaccinated patients, they estimated, “indicating that COVID-19 vaccination protects against severe COVID-19 in areas with increasing prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant.”

Infectious disease expert: Americans must ‘recalibrate’ vaccine expectations

Tim O’Donnell reiterated what I have been trying to educate my patients and friends that COVID-19 vaccines won’t eliminate the coronavirus, “no matter how many booster shots the United States gives,” Céline R. Gounder writes for The Atlantic. But that’s no reason to panic or lose confidence in them.

Grounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, thinks public health messaging got out of hand early on during the vaccine drive, especially when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published real-world evidence that showed that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 90 percent effective at preventing infections, as opposed to just disease. After that, folks got excited, believing that full vaccination status meant you could only very rarely get infected or transmit the disease. But now that the efficacy appears to be lower, there’s a lot of anxiety.

Grounder tried to ease that, explaining that vaccines are typically more effective at protecting against infection outright when battling viruses that have longer incubation periods, like measles and smallpox. In those cases, the body is trained to kick the virus out before it can really establish itself. But the coronavirus and influenza, for example, don’t take as long to start replicating and can do so before a vaccinated defense system revs up. Once it does, though, the virus doesn’t have much room to operate and is usually blocked from progressing in the lungs and causing serious damage.

With that in mind, Grounder says Americans simply need to “recalibrate our expectations about what makes a vaccine successful.” While “the public discussion of the pandemic has become distorted by a presumption that vaccination can and should eliminate COVID-19 entirely,” that’s not an attainable standard, she argues. And it’s one that makes “each breakthrough infection” look “like evidence that the vaccines are not working,” even though they’re performing “extremely well” and reducing what may have been serious infections to either mild or asymptomatic ones. Read Grounder’s full piece at The Atlantic.

Let us take a few moments of silence for the service men and women and the other civilians who lost their lives last week to the horror of the ISIS bomber.

Delta Variant Now Accounts for 83% of US Cases and Back to Mask Wearing, Even for Those Vaccinated!

Carolyn Crist reported that the nation’s top health officials said Tuesday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is racing through the country and now is responsible for 83% of all U.S. cases.

That’s a massive increase from a week ago, when Delta was seen as responsible for just more than half of new cases, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, told a Senate committee.

And listen to her carefully…is she actually suggesting a Federal Mandate to vaccinate everyone???

“The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” she said.

Meanwhile, several states in the South are reporting a large increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri are reporting full-fledged outbreaks, and neighboring states such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas are following behind.

“4th wave is here,” Thomas Dobbs, MD, the state health officer for Mississippi, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Dobbs posted a graph of hospitalizations in Mississippi, which showed numbers climbing dramatically in July after hitting a low in May and June.

“Very sad indeed,” he wrote. “Didn’t have to be this way.”

Mississippi reported more than 2,300 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, which is the state’s largest 3-day increase in cases since February, according to The Associated Press. Mississippi has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country.

Florida has become one of the country’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots, now accounting for a fifth of new infections in the U.S., according to NBC News.

In Jacksonville, UF Health broke its record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, jumping from 86 patients on Sunday to 126 on Monday.

“We’re gaining cases at such a rapid rate, we don’t really know where it’s going to stop,” Chad Neilsen, the director of infection prevention at UF Health, told NBC News.

“We aren’t even thinking a couple of months,” he said. “We’re thinking what’s going to immediately happen in the next week.”

Hospitals in Arkansas and Missouri are also preparing for a surge of patients that could strain staff and resources again, according to NBC News. If hospitalizations triple in the next 2 weeks, as projected by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), it could feel like the chaotic period at the end of 2020.

“Right now, we’re managing OK, but we’re in surge mode,” Steppe Mette, MD, the CEO of the UAMS Medical Center, told NBC News.

“We’re putting patients in physical locations where we weren’t putting them normally because of that demand,” he said.

At Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, COIVD-19 hospitalizations have increased by 70% during the last week, according to the Houston Chronicle . On Monday, the hospital had 184 COVID-19 patients, which is double the number it had on July 1.

The Delta variant accounts for about 85% of the cases, and the hospital recorded its first hospitalization with the Lambda variant, the Chronicle reported. The Lambda variant, which was first identified in Peru, has been spreading throughout South America and is now reaching the U.S.

The Delta variant has been “running rampant” among unvaccinated people in Texas, Marc Boom, MD, the CEO of Houston Methodist, wrote in an email to hospital staff. The variant will account for nearly all COVID-19 cases in the area within the coming weeks, he said.

“It is the variant of concern in Houston,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is that Delta is far more infectious.”

Public health officials are grappling with the best way to move forward as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. Increasing vaccinations is key, but mandating or guilting people into getting a shot would likely backfire, NBC News reported.

“People have heard our messages ad nauseam, but to see patients struggling to breathe and wishing they got vaccinated, that may make a difference,” Mette told the news outlet.

“Those are real people who are getting real sick,” he said.

What Evidence Do We Need to Move Forward With COVID Boosters?

Dr. Vinay Prasad noted that a few weeks ago, on Monday, employees of Pfizer met with high level executives in the Biden administration to discuss the role of boosters — a.k.a. a third vaccination with an mRNA vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. Some have speculated that, as with the first two doses, the emergency use authorization pathway will again be used to market boosters. With the rise of the Delta variant and others, enthusiasm in the media and the Twitter commentariat for boosters is growing. However, there are certain criteria that must be met before we jump on the booster bandwagon. Some of these criteria apply at home, and others apply abroad. What does stand out is that more data, real data, and an evaluation of several factors at home and abroad will be key in moving forward.

Abroad

As a general rule, if your goal is to avoid variants — or mutated versions of a virus — you want the virus to replicate less. When it comes to variants, it doesn’t matter where the virus does the replicating. In a globally connected world, it is only a matter of time before an advantageous mutation finds its way to all parts of the world. As such, we in the U.S., are only as safe as the least safe place in the world.

What this means is that before we shift our manufacturing capacity to develop boosters for the current variants, we must make a real effort to ensure that the vaccines we do have get distributed to the greatest number of global citizens who will take them. I argued in April that, practically, this means that children in high income nations should be vaccinated after older citizens globally – this same logic extends to boosters.

Before we shift our manufacturing to booster production, we should make sure that we have manufactured adequate supplies of the original vaccine for all global citizens. Moreover, we need to put effort toward solving the last mile problem: how to deliver very cold mRNA vaccines to places in the world where it is difficult to deliver and keep things very cold. This is a technological problem well within our scope.

Efforts to manufacture and deliver vaccine boosters to already vaccinated individuals in high-income nations cannot take priority and must not interfere with efforts to vaccinate at-risk individuals around the world. In fact, it is in our best interest to vaccinate those at-risk first. If we pursue boosters in the U.S. without helping the rest of the world, then we might as well get ready for the fourth, fifth, and sixth boosters. We will watch rising death tolls around the world, while worrying that yet new variants may end up on our shores.

At Home

Here in the U.S., there are also metrics that need to be met before we contemplate widespread dosing of hundreds of millions of people with booster shots. Specifically: show me the data! I have no doubt that a third mRNA shot will lead to higher neutralizing antibody titers. For that matter, I would guess six shots would outperform three on that metric. But the burden of evidence to accept boosters is not simply a change in antibody titer — or even demonstration of improved titers for rare variants.

We must show that boosters improve clinical endpoints before we ask Americans to roll up their sleeves again. A large randomized trial of vaccinated individuals powered for reduction in symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 or (better yet) severe COVID-19 is needed to justify the harms and inconvenience of boosters. If such a trial simply cannot be powered, or takes a very long time, due to the sparsity of serious infection in the U.S., then the argument for emergency use authorization is inherently flawed. When there’s too little disease to run the definitive trial, you are, by definition, no longer in an emergency. One way to solve this problem might be to deliver boosters only in elderly individuals or those who are immunocompromised. Here, a trial measuring COVID-19 outcomes may be possible.

Alternatively, a case for boosters can be made if evidence shows that boosters alter the epidemic course for a nation or the globe. Here, too, antibody titers are insufficient. Moreover, ironically, clinical trials would have to be larger and more complex to demonstrate this. For these reasons, I think the burden is on vaccine manufacturers to show that severe COVID-19 outcomes are averted.

Finally, we need to consider the second order effects of boosters. Would we gain more if we took the effort that would go into boosters and instead used it to try to increase vaccination uptake by those who are reluctant to get their first and second dose? Is the mere fact that news outlets and companies report the possible need for boosters a disincentive to be vaccinated? A skeptical person may now no longer see SARS-CoV-2 vaccines as the path out of the pandemic, but a recurring, and possibly someday yearly obligation that they may prefer to avoid altogether. We can’t ignore the potential impact of discussing boosters on vaccine acceptance.

Boosters Without Data

If we accept boosters in the U.S. while the rest of the world remains unvaccinated, and if we authorize them based on inevitable improved laboratory titers without clinical outcomes, we run the risk of creating a medical industrial perpetual motion machine.

We will continue to breed new variants outside of our nation, which will lead to calls for yet more boosters, and we will continue to get new boosters without any evidence they are necessary (i.e., lower severe COVID-19 outcomes). Our arms will ache, our hearts will hurt, our wallets will be empty, and so too will our brains, as we will have abandoned all principles of evidence-based medicine.

Lambda variant of COVID-19 identified at Texas hospital. Is it worse than delta?

Ryan W. Miller reported that a Houston hospital has its first case of the lambda variant of the coronavirus, but public health experts say it remains too soon to tell whether the variant will rise to the same level of concern as the delta variant currently raging across unvaccinated communities in the U.S.

About 83% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are from the delta variant and the vast majority of hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lambda variant, on the other hand, has been identified in less than 700 cases in the U.S. However, the World Health Organization in June called lambda a “variant of interest,” meaning it has genetic changes that affect the virus’ characteristics and has caused significant community spread or clusters of COVID-19 in multiple countries.

Dr. S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic biology at Houston Methodist, where the case was identified, said while lambda has some mutations that are similar to other variants that have raised concern, it does not appear to be nearly as transmissible as delta.

“I know there’s great interest in lambda, but I think people really need to be focused on delta,” Long said. “Most importantly, regardless of the variant, our best defense against all these variants is vaccination.

What is the lambda variant and how is it different from the delta variant?

The lambda variant is a specific strain of COVID-19 with specific mutations. It’s one of a handful of variants identified by the WHO as variants of concern or interest. Many other variants have arisen since the outbreak was first detected in late 2019 in central China.

“The natural trajectory of viruses is that they have a tendency to have mutations, and whenever we have a significant mutation that changes the virus … we get a new variant,” said Dr. Abhijit Duggal, a staff ICU physician and director for critical care research for the medical ICU at the Cleveland Clinic.

Some of the lambda mutations occur in its spike protein, which is the part of the virus that helps it penetrate cells in the human body and is also what the vaccines are targeting.

Mutations occurring there and in other parts of lambda are similar to those in variants of concern, like alpha and gamma, Long said. But even gamma, which never took hold in the U.S. to the same level as alpha or delta, has more concerning mutations than lambda, Long said.

Duggal said there hasn’t been anything specific with the lambda variant to spark concern about it becoming the dominant variant in the U.S., but “watchful waiting and being cautious is going to be the most important thing at this point.”

Where was the lambda variant first identified?

The lambda variant was first identified in Peru in December 2020. Since April, more than 80% of sequenced cases in the country have been identified as the lambda variant.

As of June, the WHO said it had identified the lambda variant in 29 countries. Argentina and Chile have also seen rising lambda cases, the WHO said.

However, the variant hasn’t spread nearly to the same level on a global scale as the delta variant. Lambda may have become so widespread in parts of South America largely because of a “founder effect,” Long said, wherein a few cases of the variant first took hold in a densely populated and geographically restricted area and slowly became the primary driver for the spread locally over time.

Long compared lambda to the gamma variant, which first was detected in Brazil and spread in similar ways.

Are COVID-19 vaccines effective against the lambda variant?

Studies have suggested the vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19 and death across multiple variants.

Duggal said while there is no reason to believe the vaccines will be ineffective against the lambda variant, more data is need to know exactly how effective it will be. The efficacy may lower some, but hospitalization may still be largely preventable in variant cases with vaccination, he said.

Remember ‘Nothing in this world is 100%’: Those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be infected, but serious illness is rare.

However, a new study posted online Tuesday found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was not as effective at preventing symptomatic disease when faced with the delta and lambda variants. The study was not yet peer reviewed or published in a journal, but it aligned with studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine that conclude one dose of the vaccine is 33% effective against symptomatic disease of the delta variant.

Vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have shown to keep similar levels of effectiveness against several of the variants of concern. But, just announced, a new preprint study conducted by Pfizer-BioNTech found its vaccine efficacy could drop down to 84% within 6 months.

Getting vaccinated still remains the most important factor in stopping the virus’ deadly effects and slowing down new variants, Long said.

Mutations occur in the coronavirus as it spreads from person to person. Vaccination can help prevent symptomatic disease and decrease the spread in communities with high vaccinations rates, which can then prevent mutations from occurring and new variants from arising, Duggal added.

Delta’s threat: CDC reveals data on why masks are important for the vaccinated and unvaccinated

More on the Delta mutated variant, which is becoming a real problem for the un vaccinated portion of our population and why wearing masks are important for all. Adrianna Rodriquez reported that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had a busy week. 

Only a few days after announcing updated mask guidelines, the agency on Friday released new scientific data on the delta variant that gives a snapshot of how the highly contagious strain triggered a wave of coronavirus cases. 

The much-anticipated report comes a day after a presentation compiled by a doctor with the agency was leaked to the media and detailed the dangers of the delta variant and how mask-wearing is essential to bring it under control.

In a briefing Tuesday, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new data spurred the agency to take immediate action by recommending fully vaccinated people to wear mask indoors in public settings where coronavirus transmission is high. 

“The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it,” she said earlier this week. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.”

Here’s everything to know about the delta variant and how it impacts fully vaccinated people. 

‘Pivotal discovery’: What the new data says about delta variant, transmission 

Fully vaccinated people made up nearly three-quarters of COVID-19 infections that occurred in a Massachusetts town during and after Fourth of July festivities, according to a CDC study published Friday in the agency’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.

Out of 469 cases that were identified in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, from July 3 to 17, the agency found 74% occurred in fully vaccinated people. The CDC sequenced samples taken from 133 patients and discovered 90% were caused by the delta variant. 

“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with delta can transmit the virus,” Walensky said in a statement sent to USA TODAY on Friday. “This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to the CDC’s mask recommendation.”

Health officials continue to reiterate the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs among the unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated people.

“Vaccinated individuals continue to represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country,” Walensky said. “We continue to estimate that the risk of breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the delta variant is reduced by sevenfold. The reduction is twentyfold for hospitalizations and death.” 

Four fully vaccinated people between the ages of 20 and 70 were hospitalized, two of whom had underlying medical conditions. No deaths were reported.  

The study found 79% of patients with breakthrough infection reported symptoms including cough, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, and fever. 

Remember also that: Breakthrough COVID-19 infections after vaccination can lead to long-haul symptoms, Israeli study shows.

Of the 346 breakthrough infections, 56% of people were vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 38% with Moderna and 7% with Johnson & Johnson. As of Friday, over 190 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine has been administered in the U.S., nearly 140 million of Moderna and 13.3 million of Johnson & Johnson, according to the CDC.

Health experts say the reason why more breakthrough infections occurred in the mRNA vaccines compared to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is because more people in the U.S. received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. 

“When you look at the data, it may concern some people that there appears to be a higher rate of breakthrough COVID infections in people fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, however, as a percentage of people who are fully vaccinated, more people have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine,” said Dr. Teresa Murray Amato, chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, New York.

“It still appears that all three of the current vaccines with emergency use administration authorization in the United States are safe and effective against the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus,” she added. 

While study authors say evidence suggests fully vaccinated people exposed to the delta variant can contract and spread the virus, it is not sufficient to determine the vaccines’ effectiveness against the highly contagious strain. 

Delta substantially more contagious than other variants

Although the study didn’t specify if fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus to other fully vaccinated people, health experts say they should wear a mask and socially distance largely to protect those who haven’t been vaccinated or who have a weakened immune system and can’t get full protection from the vaccine. 

“The data makes a pretty compelling justification for why we need to go back to mask wearing and other public health measures,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “I do think it’s because of the delta variant.”

The delta variant is known to be substantially more contagious than other variants – as contagious though deadlier than chicken pox, according to the CDC presentation. Among common infectious diseases, only measles is more contagious.

People may also be infectious for longer with the delta variant, 18 days instead of 13, the presentation says.

Vaccines remain effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19, though they worked better against the original strain and the alpha variant than they do against delta, data finds.

What do the CDC mask guidelines say?

The CDC is urging fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in areas of high or substantial coronavirus transmission. 

They’re also recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors inside schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status. That aligns closely with guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended this month that anyone older than 2 be required to wear a mask in school. 

The CDC and the AAP are still urging that children return to full-time in-person learning in the fall.

The goal behind the guidance may be to protect both the fully vaccinated and the unvaccinated, health experts say, especially vaccinated people who may be immunocompromised and children under 12 who aren’t yet eligible to get their shot.

But the reality is there’s hardly any transmission among fully vaccinated people to truly affect community spread, they say.

“It makes sense why they did it, but I don’t think it’s going to make a major difference in the large surge that we’re having,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island. “The real issue still is unvaccinated people who are not going around masked up. I have no reason to think that this guidance will get unvaccinated, unmasked people putting on masks. And that’s what we really need.”

Is there a test for the delta variant?

A traditional PCR test alone cannot differentiate the delta variant from the original virus.

The delta variant has distinctive mutations that serve as biological markers that can only be detected through genome sequencing.

Many U.S. laboratories sequence a small – but nationally representative – number of positive samples for epidemiological purposes. According to the CDC, more than 175,000 sequences have been collected through the agency’s surveillance program since Dec. 20.

People who test positive for COVID-19 aren’t made aware if they were infected by the delta variant, even if their sample was sequenced.

“Our patients will not learn if they have a variant or not,” said Dr. Christina Wojewoda, chair of College of American Pathologists Microbiology Committee. “It is for epidemiology purposes only and currently, there is no medical use for that result.”

However, the CDC said more than 80% of sequenced samples have the delta variant, which means people sick with COVID-19 were most likely infected with the highly contagious strain. 

“It is safe to assume in most places, if you are infected now, it is likely delta,” Wojewoda said. 

‘A Few Mutations Away’: The Threat of a
Vaccine-Proof Variant

Damian McNamara noted something that concerns me if we don’t get control of the virus using the best weapon that we have, vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, made a dire prediction during a media briefing this week that, if we weren’t already living within the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, would sound more like a pitch for a movie about a dystopian future.

“For the amount of virus circulating in this country right now largely among unvaccinated people, the largest concern that we in public health and science are worried about is that the virus…[becomes] a very transmissible virus that has the potential to evade our vaccines in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and death,” Walensky told reporters on Tuesday. 

A new, more elusive variant could be “just a few mutations away,” she said.

We are already reporting the lambda variant and I predict that next will be the gamma and then the kapa variant.

“That’s a very prescient comment,” Lewis Nelson, MD, professor and clinical chair of emergency medicine and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, told Medscape Medical News.

“We’ve gone through a few mutations already that have been named, and each one of them gets a little more transmissible,” he said. “That’s normal, natural selection and what you would expect to happen as viruses mutate from one strain to another.”

“What we’ve mostly seen this virus do is evolve to become more infectious,” said Stuart Ray, MD, when also asked to comment. “That is the remarkable feature of Delta — that it is so infectious.”

He said that the SARS-CoV-2 has evolved largely as expected, at least so far. “The potential for this virus to mutate has been something that has been a concern from early on.”

“The viral evolution is a bit like a ticking clock. The more we allow infections to occur, the more likely changes will occur. When we have lots of people infected, we give more chances to the virus to diversify and then adapt to selective pressures,” said Ray, vice-chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics and professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

“The problem is if the virus changes in such a way that the spike protein — which the antibodies from the vaccine are directed against — are no longer effective at binding and destroying the virus, and the virus escapes immune surveillance,” Nelson said.

If this occurs, he added, “we will have an ineffective vaccine, essentially. And we’ll be back to where we were last March with a brand-new disease.”

Technology to the Rescue?

The flexibility of mRNA vaccines is one potential solution. These vaccines could be more easily and quickly adapted to respond to a new, more vaccine-elusive variant.

“That’s absolutely reassuring,” Nelson said. For example, if a mutation changes the spike protein and vaccines no longer recognize it, a manufacturer could identify the new protein and incorporate that in a new mRNA vaccine.

“The problem is that some people are not taking the current vaccine,” he added. “I’m not sure what is going to make them take the next vaccine.”

When asked how likely a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 could emerge that gets around vaccine protection, Nelson said, “I think [what] we’ve learned so far there is no way to predict anything” about this pandemic.

“The best way to prevent the virus from mutating is to prevent hosts, people, from getting sick with it,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important people should get immunized and wear masks.”

Both Nelson and Ray pointed out that it is in the best interest of the virus to evolve to be more transmissible and spread to more people. In contrast, a virus that causes people to get so sick that they isolate or die, thus halting transmission, works against viruses surviving evolutionarily.

Some viruses also mutate to become milder over time, but that has not been the case with SARS-CoV-2, Ray said.

Mutations are not the only concern!

Viruses have another mechanism that produces new strains, and it works even more quickly than mutations. Recombination, as it’s known, can occur when a person is infected with two different strains of the same virus. If the two versions enter the same cell, the viruses can swap genetic material and produce a third, altogether different strain.

Recombination has already been seen with influenza strains, where H and N genetic segments are swapped to yield H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2 versions of the flu, for example.

“In the early days of SARS-CoV-2 there was so little diversity that recombination did not matter,” Ray said. However, there are now distinct lineages of the virus circulating globally. If two of these lineages swap segments “this would make a very new viral sequence in one step without having to mutate to gain those differences.”

“The more diverse the strains that are circulating, the bigger a possibility this is,” Ray said.

Protected, for Now

Walensky’s sober warning came at the same time the CDC released new guidance calling for the wearing of masks indoors in schools and in any location in the country where COVID-19 cases surpass 50 people per 100,000, also known as substantial or high transmission areas.

On a positive note, Walensky said: “Right now, fortunately, we are not there. The vaccines operate really well in protecting us from severe disease and death.”

Records have been set nearly every day lately in Tokyo, but not all of them have been by athletes competing in the Olympics.

Japan’s capital has exceeded 4,000 coronavirus infections for the first time — 4,058 cases, to be exact. That’s a record high and nearly four times as many cases were reported just a week ago.

Tokyo set new case records every day from Monday to Wednesday, experiencing just a slight dip on Thursday, when they totaled 3,300 — still one of the city’s highest daily counts on record.

So, those of you, your friends, associates who haven’t been vaccinated, your best protection is still getting vaccinated.

Just do it, get vaccinated!

Continue with COVID-19 Precautions or Declare Pandemic Under Control, Anti-vaxers and the Delta Variant?

Damian McNamara reviewed some of the controversies regarding COVID-19 pandemic and our present status. Have we arrived at a much-anticipated tipping point in the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States? Or do we still have some time before we can return to some semblance of life as we knew it in 2019?

The CDC relaxation of masking and social distancing guidance for fully vaccinated Americans is one reason for optimism, some say, as is the recent milestone where we surpassed more than 50% of Americans vaccinated.

But it’s not all good news. “Right now, we are struggling with vaccine hesitancy,” Ali H. Mokdad, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.

“My concern now is people who don’t want the vaccine are looking around them and saying, ‘Oh we are in a very good position. Infections are down, more than 50% of Americans are vaccinated. Why do I need to get a vaccine?’ ” he said.

Another potential issue is waning immunity, added Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle. Companies are developing booster shots and Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House chief science advisor, said they may be required in the future.

Mokdad said this could add to vaccine hesitancy now. “Someone might think ‘Why should I take this vaccine when there is a new one coming up?’ If I wait for 2 months, I’ll get a new one.'”

“We can definitely be optimistic. Things are going in the right direction,” John Segreti, MD, told Medscape Medical News when asked to comment. “The vaccines seem to be working as well as advertised and are holding up in a real-world situation.”

However, “It’s too early to say it’s over,” he stressed.

“There is still moderate to substantial transmission in the community just about everywhere in the US. It might take a while until we see transmission rates declining to the point where the pandemic will be declared over,” added Segreti, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.

The global picture is another reason for pessimism, he said. “There is not enough vaccine for around the world. As long as there is uncontrolled transmission of coronavirus somewhere in the world, there is a greater chance for selecting out variants and variants that can escape the vaccine.”

“But overall I am much more optimistic than I was 6 months ago,” Segreti added.

Vaccines vs Variant

In a study evaluating two COVID-19 vaccines against the B.1.167.2 variant first reported in India, researchers evaluated data from Public Health England and reported reassuring news that the vaccines protected against this variant of concern. They studied the efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.

“After two doses of either vaccine there were only modest differences in vaccine effectiveness with the B.1.617.2 variant,” the researchers note. “Absolute differences in vaccine effectiveness were more marked with dose one. This would support maximizing vaccine uptake with two doses among vulnerable groups.”

The study was published online May 22 as a preprint on MedRxiv. It has not yet been peer reviewed.

The positive findings generated a lot of discussion on Twitter, with some still urging caution about celebrating the end of the pandemic. For example, a tweet from Aris Katzourakis, a paleo-virologist and researcher at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, questioned how the results could be interpreted as good news “unless your priors were unreasonably catastrophic.”

“It depends on what happens to hospitalizations and deaths, as Andrew Pollard said this morning,” Charlotte Houldcroft, PhD, a post-doctoral research associate at Cambridge University in the UK, replied.

Houldcroft was referring to a comment this week from Andrew Pollard, MBBS, PhD, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who said if most people with COVID-19 are kept out of the hospital with the current vaccines “then the pandemic is over.”

Pollard also told The Guardian: “We can live with the virus; in fact, we are going to have to live with the virus in one way or another. We just need a little bit more time to have certainty around this.”

Seasonal Variation?

Others acknowledge that even though cases are dropping in the US, it could mean COVID-19 will transition to a seasonal illness like the flu. If that’s the case, they caution, a warm weather lull in COVID-19 cases could portend another surge come the winter.

But, Segreti said, it’s too early to tell.

“It’s reasonable to expect that at some point we will need a booster,” he added, but the timeline and frequency remain unknown.

Economic Indicators

The US economy is operating at 90% of where it was before the pandemic, according to the ‘Back to Normal Index’ calculated by CNN Business and Moody’s Analytics based on 37 national and seven state measures.

The index improved in 44 states in the week prior to May 26, which could also reflect an overall improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic.

State and federal unemployment numbers, job postings and hiring rates, and personal savings appear to be trending in a positive direction. In contrast, box office sales, hotel occupancy, and domestic air travel continue to struggle.

Explained: How to Talk to Anti-Vaxxers

Collectively, by turning around those who believe otherwise, we can save lives.

I am getting very tired of trying to convince people of the safety and need for vaccinations and then I reviewed this article. Erica Weintraub Austin and Porismita Borah helps us communicate with this population group. An estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people died from the flu in the United States during the 2019-20 flu season. And that was a relatively mild flu season, which typically starts in October and peaks between December and February.

The computer model predicted 300,000 deaths from COVID-19.

With the advent of flu season, and COVID-19 cases rising, a public health disaster even worse than what we’re now experiencing could occur this fall and winter. Two very dangerous respiratory diseases could be circulating at once.

This will put the general population at risk as well as the millions of people who have pre-existing conditions. Hospitals and health care workers would likely be overwhelmed again.

We are scholars from the Edward R. Murrow Center for Media & Health Promotion Research at Washington State University. As we see it, the only way out of the reopening and reclosing cycles is to convince people to get the flu vaccine in early fall – and then the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available. Right now, up to 20 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are already in human trials. Chances seem good that at least one will be available for distribution in 2021.

But recent studies suggest that 35% might not want to get a COVID vaccine, and fewer than half received a flu vaccine for the 2019-2020 season.

Getting Coverage

To arrest the pandemic’s spread, perhaps 70% to 80% of the population must opt in and get the vaccine. They also need the flu shot to avoid co-infection which complicates diagnosis and treatment.

Achieving herd immunity is a steep climb. We conducted a national online survey, with 1,264 participants, between June 22 and July 18. We found that only 56% of adults said they were likely or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Westerners were most accepting (64%), followed by Midwesterners (58%), with Southerners (53%) and Northeasterners (50%) least likely.

Anti-vaxxers, promoting unlikely scenarios and outright falsehoods about vaccine risks, are not helping.

With all this in mind, we would like to share some myths and truths about how to increase rates of vaccinations.

Facts Don’t Convince People

People who support vaccination sometimes believe their own set of myths, which actually may stand in the way of getting people vaccinated. One such myth is that people respond to facts and that vaccine hesitancy can be overcome by facts.

That is not necessarily true. Actually, knowledge alone rarely convinces people to change behavior. Most decisions are informed – or misinformed – by emotions: confidence, threat, empathy and worry are four of them.

Another myth is that people can easily separate accurate information from the inaccurate. This is not always true, either. With so much misinformation and disinformation out there, people are often overconfident about their ability to discern good from bad. Our research during the H1N1 epidemic showed that overconfidence can lead to faulty conclusions that increase risk.

Also, it’s not always true that people are motivated to get accurate information to protect themselves and their loved ones. People are often too busy to parse information, especially on complicated subjects. They instead rely on shortcuts, often looking for consistency with their own attitudes, social media endorsements and accessibility.

And, to complicate matters, people will sometimes disregard additional fact checking that contradicts their political beliefs.

Assuming that people who get the flu vaccine will also get the COVID-19 vaccine is a mistake, too.

In our survey, 52% of respondents said they got a flu or other vaccine in the past year, but only 64% of those who got a vaccine in the past year said they were somewhat or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine. On the other hand, 47% who did not get a recent vaccine said they were somewhat or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ways that Do Help

Here are five things you can do to encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vaccinate and to seek out reliable information:

  1. Help them discern trustworthy news outlets from the rest. Is the outlet clearly identified? Does it have a good reputation? Does it present verifiable evidence to back up claims? It is hard to know whether a site is advancing a political agenda but check the “about” or “sponsors” type of links in the menu on the homepage to gain a bit more information. People should be particularly suspicious if the source makes absolutist claims or evokes stereotypes. An anger-provoking headline on social media might be nothing more than manipulative clickbait, intended to sell a product or profit in some way from a reader’s attention.
  2. Make trustworthy news sources accessible and consistent by putting them on your social media feeds. Community service centers are a good one. Partner with opinion leaders people already trust. Our survey respondents viewed local news and local health departments more useful than other outlets, although favorite sources vary with their age and political orientation.
  3. Provide clear, consistent, relevant reasons to get the vaccines. Don’t forget the power of empathy. Our survey says only 49% thought a COVID-19 vaccine would help them, but 65% believed it would help protect other people. Avoid the temptation to use scare tactics and keep in mind that negatively framed messages sometimes backfire.
  4. Remember that skepticism about vaccines did not happen overnight or entirely without cause. Research shows that mistrust of news media compromises confidence in vaccination. Many are also skeptical of Big Pharma for promoting drugs of questionable quality. The government must too overcome mistrust based on past questionable tactics, including “vaccine squads” targeting African Americans and immigrants. Honesty about past mistakes or current side effects is important. Some information about vaccines, widely disseminated in the past, were later revealed to be wrong. Although the evidence for the efficacy of vaccines is overwhelming, any missteps on this subject breed mistrust. One recent example: Two major studies about COVID-19 treatments were ultimately retracted.
  5. Let them know that science is the answer, but it requires patience to get it right. Scientific progress is made gradually, with course corrections that are common until they build to consensus.

And emphasize the things we are certain of: The pandemic is not going away by itself. Not all news outlets are the same. Both flu and COVID-19 shots are necessary. And vaccines work. Collectively, by turning around those who believe otherwise, we can save lives.

How to Talk to Someone Who’s Hesitant to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

I really like this set evaluation and set of suggestions put together by Elaine K. Howley, for Dr. Gabriel Lockhart, a pulmonologist and critical care intensivist at National Jewish Health in Denver, the question of how best to approach loved ones who are vaccine hesitant hit very close to home.

Lockhart, who is also the director of the ICU for National Jewish Health, has been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginning, traveling to New York a few times to help out during the peak of its COVID crisis. “I had a lot of first-hand experience with the disastrous outcomes of COVID,” he says.

That, plus his background in pulmonary critical care medicine, has led to his working with Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado as part of the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee medical advisory group in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Public Health to address the pandemic in Colorado. “My specific focus was on vaccine distribution,” he says, which is a “very personal topic” for him because he’s African-American and Hispanic.

Communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, and deploying vaccines to populations that are more vulnerable has been a key component of public health messaging.

But many people in these (and other) communities are hesitant to take the vaccine. And for good reason – there’s a long history of mistrust between communities of color and American health institutions.

For some people of color, there are deep-seated and legitimate concerns that this could be a repeat of Tuskegee, Lockhart says, referencing the infamous “ethically unjustified” Tuskegee study, which intended to study untreated syphilis in Black men and involved misinformation, lack of informed consent and outright manipulation of participants.

Fearing this situation might be similar, with communities of color being misled in the name of medical studies, some people expressed to Lockhart that they felt like “lab rats.” These responses caused the advisory committee in Colorado to take a step back and evaluate how they would encourage people in these communities to take the vaccine.

Lockhart says his own mother was initially resistant to getting the shot. “She finally just recently got her second dose, but that took six to eight months of me pestering her to finally get that to happen,” he says.

For his part, Lockhart was cautious too. “I wasn’t going to take the vaccine and promote it to my family and friends and patients unless I was completely confident in its safety and efficacy.”

When the clinical trials concluded, he reviewed the data and soon felt 100% comfortable about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. He got his shots in December, among the earliest wave of health care personnel who were able to access the protective inoculation.

Making the Case for Vaccination

Since then, Lockhart has gone on to spread the message that the vaccines are safe, effective and everyone who’s able should get inoculated. He’s also learned that there’s a distinction between people who can be swayed and those who can’t be.

“When I approach people, who are hesitant about the vaccine, I think it’s first important to distinguish between those who are vaccine hesitant and those who are anti-vaxxers. Because those are two different things, in my opinion,” he explains.

“Vaccine hesitancy means they’re open to hearing information and making an educated decision based on good quality information they receive. They may not be wanting to go blindfolded into taking the vaccine. But if they’re willing to hear that information, then they can make an educated decision from that point.”

On the other hand, he says “anti-vaxxers are going to be dead set, no matter what information you tell them. They’re always going to be coming up with a firehose of misinformation and leading you down a rabbit hole of tangential information that isn’t really useful, accurate or helpful when it comes to vaccines. I don’t typically engage that much with purely anti-vaxxers because there’s really not going to be a lot of gain from that population.”

However, educational efforts can go a long way toward convincing those who are hesitant but open to learning more to take the vaccine to protect themselves and their communities, Lockhart says.

Dr. Julita Mir, a practicing internist and infectious disease physician and chief medical officer of Community Care Cooperative (C3) in Boston, urges patience and compassion when talking with others about taking the vaccine. “For most people, it’s a matter of time. We all move at different paces and accepting others’ pace is key.”

Find Out Their Concerns


Because there can be so many different, highly personal reasons why someone might be hesitant to take the vaccine, “it’s best to approach people in a supportive and respectful manner, and make it clear that your goal is to understand what their concerns are,” says Dr. Richard Seidman, chief medical officer of L.A. Care Health Plan – the largest publicly operated health plan in the country.

“We can’t assume what others are thinking or feeling, so it’s best to ask. Once we understand others’ concerns more clearly, we’re better able to engage in a meaningful discussion to explore how to best address their concerns.”

Dr. Lisa Doggett, senior medical director for HGS AxisPoint Health, a care management services company based in Westminster, Colorado, and a newly appointed fellow with American Academy of Family Physicians’ Vaccine Science Fellowship, recommends asking “if there’s anything that might change their mind. If they say, ‘absolutely not,’ it’s probably a good idea to stop and agree to disagree. By continuing you’ll often force them to dig into their beliefs with even greater conviction.”

But, she adds, that if they show some glimmer that they might be willing to consider an alternate view point, “offer to provide one,” but first, “ask for permission. If they agree, proceed with care, stay calm and offer information that’s likely to be meaningful to that particular person.”

Dr. Charles Bailey, medical director for infection prevention at Providence St Joseph Hospital and Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, agrees that coming from a “place of love” often is more fruitful when trying to convince someone to get vaccinated.

He recommends saying something along the lines of: “‘I’m concerned about your reluctance to get a COVID vaccination because I care about your health and safety.’ And before going directly to examples of who you know who’s gotten the vaccine and had no or minimal problems, try to ascertain from where the reluctance originates.”

Ask questions like: “‘What in particular makes you hesitant to get vaccinated at this time?’ Phrasing it in this way provides room for a subsequent change in their decision later as more information comes to light and/or more consideration has occurred,” he explains.

Lockhart recommends “really making sure it’s a two-way conversation” that involves specific reasons. With a full explanation of where that hesitancy comes from, he says it’s possible to provide the accurate and correct information that can help move people toward getting the vaccine.

Mir also recommends “leading by example” and getting vaccinated yourself. “People tend to trust and be influenced more so by those in their close circles.”

Doggett adds, “at all costs, avoid insults and demeaning language, which would be counterproductive. And have realistic expectations. Not everyone

Countering Common Vaccine Concerns


There are a wide variety of legitimate reasons why some people may be hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine. These may include:

  • Speed that the vaccine was developed.
  • Safety.
  • Misinformation or misunderstanding the science.
  • Side effects.
  • Distrust of science, the government or medical authorities.
  • Underlying conditions that they believe might make them more vulnerable.

Speed of Development
For some people, the concern is the speed with which the vaccine was developed and how “new” the mRNA technology being used in two of the three shots currently available in the U.S. seems. But Lockhart notes, this approach to developing vaccines “isn’t that new. We’ve had experience with mRNA technology for the last two decades.”

Primarily, it was studied for use in cancer treatment and has also been investigated for use in vaccines against influenza, rabies and Zika. With all this scrutiny, scientists have developed “a good sense of the side effect profile when it comes to mRNA technology.”

The speed with which these vaccines were made available stems from that past experience with mRNA technology and the all-hands-on-deck approach that global health authorities took early on to bring this burgeoning crisis under control.

Lockhart uses an analogy to explain how it all came together so quickly. “It’s like having six different construction companies that were all employed to build separate skyscrapers. They’re told a skyscraper typically takes two years to build. But then they’re all told, ‘Hey, we need all of you to focus on the same skyscraper and expedite the production. Pivot your focus all on the same skyscraper.’ So, yeah. It’s gonna happen a lot faster when you already have infrastructure in place that all comes together for a common cause.”

Despite this fast-tracking, Bailey notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been clear from the beginning that “no short cuts in safety were taken” in bringing these vaccines into use this quickly. “The rapid development was facilitated primarily by massive governmental investment in private-sector pharma companies as well as liability protections.”

All the normal safety steps were taken in developing these vaccines, and because this was such an urgent need and highly scrutinized, all the trials were conducted to the most stringent standards. All three currently available vaccines in the U.S. have been found to be safe and highly effective.

The numbers may paint a clearer picture. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial included more than 43,000 participants. Of the group that received the vaccine (rather than a placebo) only eight individuals developed COVID-19. That’s compared to 162 in the placebo group. Of those infections, 10 were severe, but only one of those occurred in the vaccinated group, and the other nine were in the placebo group.

The Moderna vaccine trial included more than 30,000 people, and only five cases of COVID-19 were reported in the group that received the vaccine versus 90 in the placebo group. Of those 90 cases, 30 were severe. There were no severe cases of COVID-19 reported in the vaccine group.

The Johnson & Johnson one-dose adenovirus vector vaccine was trialed in nearly 44,000 people in eight countries. There were 116 cases of COVID-19 in the vaccine group and 348 in the placebo group at least 14 days after vaccination. Of those, only two were severe among the vaccine group, compared to 29 in the placebo group. Seven people in the placebo group died of COVID-19, while none died in the vaccine group.

For all three vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization because they were “at least 50% more effective than placebo in preventing COVID-19,” which is consistent with the organization’s guidelines for granting authorization. “A vaccine with at least 50% efficacy would have a significant impact on disease, both at the individual and societal level,” the FDA reports.

Some of the testing steps happened in tandem, which is part of how these companies were able to condense the timeline. There was also unprecedented collaboration across pharmaceutical companies. This helped move everything along faster.

“Just because they happened faster doesn’t mean it’s not a quality product,” Lockhart adds.

Safety
Concerns about safety are also common, Seidman says. For example, concerns about very rare blood clots caused the FDA to pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for 11 days in April to reevaluate the data. Putting a pause on a new vaccine or medication is not unusual, and it’s an example of the system working exactly as it should.

In this case, there were six reported cases of blood clots and one death related to the J&J vaccine. More than 6.8 million doses had been administered when the pause was initiated in mid-April. In other words, the chances of developing a blood clot from the J&J vaccine were observed to be quite literally less than one in a million. However, in an abundance of caution, the FDA paused use of the vaccine to reevaluate the data and found that “it’s a very, very small concern, and compared to the risk of blood clots with contracting COVID, it’s extremely small,” Lockhart says.

A November 2020 study conducted at UC San Diego Health and involving more than 8,000 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 noted that 20% of people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 will develop blood clots. For patients in the intensive care unit, the rate was 31%. The study also noted that blood clots led to an increased risk of death by 74%. So the risk of getting a blood clot from the vaccine is miniscule in comparison to the risk of getting a blood clot from COVID-19 itself.

Doggett notes that “nearly everything we do in medicine, and in life, carries some inherent risk. Medications have side effects; treatments and procedures can have unintended consequences. Sometimes the risks and benefits are nearly equal, and choosing the right path is difficult. However, with the COVID-19 vaccine, the risks of vaccine refusal are clear and are substantially greater, for almost everyone, than the very small risk of the vaccine.”

Physicians are constantly weighing the risk versus benefit of any intervention, and the COVID vaccines have been found to be very beneficial with exceedingly small risks.

Plus, there’s reassurance in numbers, Seidman says. “The fact is that nearly 150 million people have been vaccinated in the United States alone with very few serious side effects.” This is excellent evidence that the vaccines really are very safe.

“All approved vaccines have an excellent safety profile, which is regularly tested,” says Dr. Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at the Sheba Medical Center and a clinical associate professor in Tel Aviv University School of Medicine in Israel. This means safety testing isn’t just a one-and-done situation. These vaccines are constantly being monitored and evaluated. Any adverse effects are being carefully recorded, and if a safety concern does arise, as did with the J&J vaccine, use will be halted until further investigation can be conducted.

“Medicine in general and vaccine safety assessment specifically are scientific disciplines,” Leshem adds, and the science is showing these vaccines to be extremely safe and effective.

Misinformation or Misunderstanding the Science
“If misinformation is fueling the reluctance, simply supplying accurate information may dispel the nonacceptance,” Bailey says. To dispel some of these myths:

  • These vaccines can’t give you COVID-19. The vaccines do not include any live virus and thus cannot give you COVID-19. The vaccine triggers the immune system to manufacture antibodies against the disease.
  • They can’t affect your fertility. The CDC reports that there’s currently “no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems.”
  • They don’t contain other substances or materials that are harmful or controlling. Several bizarre conspiracy theories floating around the internet have suggested that the vaccines contain microchips or other nefarious ingredients that could be used to control people. These ideas are completely false and not based in science or reality.
  • You should get vaccinated even if you had COVID-19. That’s because while having had the disease offers some protection against future infection, there’s not enough data about that level of protection to know when it tapers off or how protective it is. If you’ve recently had COVID-19, you can receive the first dose of the vaccine four weeks after the onset of symptoms. The second dose can be administered after you’ve completed your isolation period (about 10 days). If you received certain treatments for COVID, including convalescent plasma or antibody infusions, you’ll need to wait 90 days before you can take the vaccine.
  • These vaccines can’t change your DNA. Some people have misunderstood what mRNA is and how it works and believe that this approach can alter your DNA. But that’s not true. “There’s no interference of your DNA. The vaccine doesn’t affect your DNA at all,” Lockhart says.

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines both use mRNA to stimulate the body to create the antibodies it needs to fight off infection from the coronavirus. mRNA is messenger RNA, and in this context, it refers to a piece of the virus’ spike protein. This molecule contains a a piece of genetic code that instructs your cells to create antibodies against the coronavirus. To do this, the mRNA doesn’t even enter the nucleus of the cell – the cell breaks it down and removes it after it’s finished using the instructions.

Side Effects
For some people, it’s a prior negative experience that’s driving their reluctance. In this case, whether the concern is a bad reaction to another vaccine or concerns about side effects that someone else has experienced, Bailey says discussing the facts around the statistics can help dispel some of that hesitation. He notes that the risk of severe side effects from the COVID vaccines is very low and much lower than the risk of getting COVID if you don’t get vaccinated.

Many people experience no side effects from any of these vaccines. But for others, after having one or both shots, they have reported experiencing:

  • Soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site.
  • Mild, flu-like symptoms, including a headache and body aches.
  • Tiredness.
  • Low-grade fevers.

Most of these side effects are mild and resolve quickly – within a day or two for most people. They’re also normal and signs that the vaccine is working to get your immune system ramped up to better meet the challenge if you’re exposed to the coronavirus in the future.

The most common side effects are also likely to be far less intense than if you were to get infected with COVID, so it’s worth it to feel a little lousy for a few hours – or even a couple days – after your shot if it means protecting yourself – and others – from a potentially far worse outcome if you caught the disease.

In very rare cases, some people have experienced more intense side effects including:

  • Severe allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. This has been observed in approximately two to five patients per million people vaccinated. This reaction also almost always occurred within 30 minutes after vaccination, which is why recipients are instructed to wait 15 to 30 minutes after each shot for observation.
  • Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. Also called TTS, this condition involves blood clots with low platelets. This very rare syndrome has occurred almost exclusively in adult women younger than age 50 who received the J&J/Janssen vaccine. According to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, as of May 11, 2021, more than 9 million doses of the J&J/Janssen vaccine had been given and 28 reports of TTS had been confirmed.

It’s important to underscore that these effects have been observed in a very small proportion of patients.

In addition, the CDC reports that there’s currently no evidence that there’s a causal link between the vaccine and any deaths apart from a “plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and a rare and serious event – blood clots with low platelets – which has caused deaths.” The CDC and the FDA are continuing to monitor all adverse events and deaths and are reporting such to the VAERS.

Distrust of Science, the Government or Medical Authorities
Seidman also notes that “many people just don’t like being told what to do, especially if the message is coming from the government.” This is where community-based initiatives to educate and provide vaccines to people where they are can be especially useful.

“I’ve been working on talking to several community groups and leaders so they can answer questions and disseminate this information to their communities,” Lockhart says. Talking with a trusted adviser, such as a church elder or a barber, may offer more reassurance to hesitant people than speaking with a doctor, he adds. “If I can get buy-in from those folks, I think that’s the best efficacy. We can get people to accept the true information about these vaccines” because it’s coming from a trusted community leader.

Doggett adds that “for those who are concerned about personal liberties, a message that will sometimes resonate is that vaccinating more people will help encourage the government to lift restrictions and increase freedom in the long run.”

Leshem notes that this has already happened in Israel, where as of May 10, 2021, nearly 63% of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. “As we’re now experiencing in Israel, when most of the population are vaccinated disease spread declines and it is possible to go back to living a normal life.”

Barriers to vaccination such as the long history of racism and, as Seidman explains, “government-sanctioned experimentation on low-income people of color that has eroded trust” may be more difficult to combat. Lockhart says that while these are very legitimate concerns, avoiding the vaccine is only going to worsen the disparity in outcomes between white communities and communities of color.

Again, community-based, grassroots outreach efforts may be better for convincing people who have this as their primary concern. There needs to be a re-establishment of trust with agencies and entities that purvey medical information and care. “My advice is to get the facts from a trusted source of truth, like your doctor or from your faith-based leaders. And be careful not to accept what you might hear or read in biased media sources,” Seidman says.

“Many people tend to trust their primary care doctors, and building on that trust to overcome vaccine hesitancy is important,” Doggett says. And across the board, she adds that “the medical community needs to communicate effectively and consistently about the safety of the vaccine to help improve vaccine acceptance.”

Underlying Conditions
For some people who are pregnant or have medical conditions, such as cancer, there’s been a lot of fear and confusion surrounding whether it’s safe to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that for most people with cancer or a history of cancer, the vaccine is safe and should be accepted, but individual cases may have other factors to consider, so talk with your oncologist.
  • Pregnancy. Though there has been some hesitation among pregnant people in taking the vaccine, studies have found that it’s safe and could actually protect your baby from contracting the virus after birth. The CDC’s V-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry is monitoring deployment of the vaccine in pregnant people. As of May 10, 2021, more than 110,000 pregnant people have been vaccinated. Talk with your obstetrician for advice tailored to your specific situation.
  • Immune disorders. If you have a chronic immune disorder or are taking medications that suppress the function of the immune system, you are eligible to get the vaccine. But you should talk with your health care provider about your situation.
  • Negative previous reactions to vaccines. If you’ve had a previous severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) you should not take the vaccine. If you have severe allergies to certain medications, latex, pets, foods or other environmental triggers, talk with your health care provider about whether it’s safe for you to take the vaccine.

“Referral to a family physician, nurse specialist or an infectious disease doctor can further help in more complicated cases, such as immune compromise, severe allergy or pregnancy,” Leshem says.

Why Vaccination Matters

The sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the better our chances of putting the pandemic completely behind us. “The COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool we have to get the pandemic under control, allowing us to get back to doing all of the things we need and want to do as individuals, families, business owners and as a community,” Seidman says. “Every additional person who gets vaccinated gets us one step closer to getting the virus under control.”

Still, as Doggett notes, “over a quarter of U.S. adults say they won’t get vaccinated. Their refusal makes it harder to stop the spread of the coronavirus, increasing infection rates and health care costs, and raising the risk of new, more dangerous variants. It also makes it more difficult for us to achieve herd immunity and effectively end the pandemic.”

This ongoing hesitancy to get vaccinated will drag out the pandemic and make it more difficult to resume life as usual, she says, because “the pandemic is far from over.”

In countries where vaccination rates are high, such as the UK, Israel and some parts of the U.S., cases are declining. “But rates of COVID-19 remain dangerously high in many parts of the world,” Doggett says. The higher these rates of infection, the more likely the virus will mutate into more dangerous strains that can undermine all the efforts over the past year to stamp out the pandemic.

“Even in the U.S., we’re still seeing tens of thousands of new cases every day and hundreds of deaths. The faster people get vaccinated, the faster we can stop the virus from spreading, and the sooner we can safely resume activities that many of us have given up during the pandemic, like travel, indoor dining and visiting family.”

The bottom line, she says, “getting vaccinated is the safest way to protect yourself and everyone around you from getting sick. It’s also an important way to stop the creation of new variants of the virus, that may be more virulent, more resistant to the vaccine and could extend the pandemic.”

Vaccine refusal, on the other hand, “will lead to higher health care costs, damage to the economy, and more people living with long-term COVID-19 complications, such as damage to the heart, lungs and brain that we’ve started to see in as many as a third of COVID-19 survivors.”

“Getting vaccinated is a personal decision,” Seidman notes. But choosing “not to get vaccinated is a decision that impacts everyone.”

Estimates of the number of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity have typically ranged from 60% to 80% or so, but there are still many open questions about how durable immunity is and when we’ll have reached the threshold of protection.

In the meanwhile, getting vaccinated and convincing your friends and loved ones to do the same is our best means of moving out of this crisis. For his part, Seidman says “the COVID-19 vaccines are really a miracle of modern science. These vaccines are very safe and effective in preventing infection, hospitalizations and deaths from the worst pandemic in 100 years.”

And now with the Delta variant, Some areas of the U.S. could see “very dense outbreaks” of the Delta coronavirus variant throughout the summer and fall, particularly in states with low vaccination rates, according to CBS News.

The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, now makes up about 20% of new cases across the country. The variant has led to surges in parts of Missouri and Arkansas where people haven’t yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s going to be hyper-regionalized, where there are certain pockets of the country where we can have very dense outbreaks,” Scott Gottlieb, MD, former commissioner of the FDA, said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“As you look across the United States, if you’re a community that has low vaccination rates and … low immunity from prior infection, the virus really hasn’t coursed through the local population,” he added. “I think governors need to be thinking about how they can build out health care resources in areas of the country where you still have a lot of vulnerability.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who spoke on “Face the Nation” before Gottlieb, also expressed concerns about the Delta variant. Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, which Hutchinson attributed to vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The Delta variant is a great concern to us,” he said. “We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations.”

Hospital admissions increased 30% during the last week, and the University of Arkansas Medical Center reopened its COVID-19 ward. The state is offering incentives for people to get vaccinated, but they haven’t been successful, Hutchinson said. About 50% of adults are vaccinated, and public health officials want to move the needle higher.

“If incentives don’t work, reality will,” he said. “As you see the hospitalizations go up, the cases go up, I think you’ll see the vaccination rate increase as well.”

The Delta variant has been detected in 49 states and the District of Columbia, CBS News reported. The strain is more transmissible and can cause more severe COVID-19. The U.S. and other countries have marked the Delta variant as a “variant of concern” to monitor as the pandemic continues worldwide.

The Delta variant has become the dominant strain in the U.K. and now accounts for 95% of cases that are sequenced, according to the latest update from Public Health England. On Sunday, Gottlieb said the U.S. is about a month or two behind the U.K. with local surges in cases due to the variant.

“They’re seeing cases grow,” he said. “The vast majority are in people who are unvaccinated … the experience in the U.S. is likely to be similar.”

My friend and cartoonist just succumbed to his long battle with cancer. He will be missed by us all and I thank him for being my friend, patient and cartoonist.

Damian McNamara reviewed some of the controversies regarding COVID-19 pandemic and our present status. Have we arrived at a much-anticipated tipping point in the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States? Or do we still have some time before we can return to some semblance of life as we knew it in 2019?

The CDC relaxation of masking and social distancing guidance for fully vaccinated Americans is one reason for optimism, some say, as is the recent milestone where we surpassed more than 50% of Americans vaccinated.

But it’s not all good news. “Right now, we are struggling with vaccine hesitancy,” Ali H. Mokdad, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.

“My concern now is people who don’t want the vaccine are looking around them and saying, ‘Oh we are in a very good position. Infections are down, more than 50% of Americans are vaccinated. Why do I need to get a vaccine?’ ” he said.

Another potential issue is waning immunity, added Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle. Companies are developing booster shots and Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House chief science advisor, said they may be required in the future.

Mokdad said this could add to vaccine hesitancy now. “Someone might think ‘Why should I take this vaccine when there is a new one coming up?’ If I wait for 2 months, I’ll get a new one.'”

“We can definitely be optimistic. Things are going in the right direction,” John Segreti, MD, told Medscape Medical News when asked to comment. “The vaccines seem to be working as well as advertised and are holding up in a real-world situation.”

However, “It’s too early to say it’s over,” he stressed.

“There is still moderate to substantial transmission in the community just about everywhere in the US. It might take a while until we see transmission rates declining to the point where the pandemic will be declared over,” added Segreti, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.

The global picture is another reason for pessimism, he said. “There is not enough vaccine for around the world. As long as there is uncontrolled transmission of coronavirus somewhere in the world, there is a greater chance for selecting out variants and variants that can escape the vaccine.”

“But overall I am much more optimistic than I was 6 months ago,” Segreti added.

Vaccines vs Variant

In a study evaluating two COVID-19 vaccines against the B.1.167.2 variant first reported in India, researchers evaluated data from Public Health England and reported reassuring news that the vaccines protected against this variant of concern. They studied the efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.

“After two doses of either vaccine there were only modest differences in vaccine effectiveness with the B.1.617.2 variant,” the researchers note. “Absolute differences in vaccine effectiveness were more marked with dose one. This would support maximizing vaccine uptake with two doses among vulnerable groups.”

The study was published online May 22 as a preprint on MedRxiv. It has not yet been peer reviewed.

The positive findings generated a lot of discussion on Twitter, with some still urging caution about celebrating the end of the pandemic. For example, a tweet from Aris Katzourakis, a paleo-virologist and researcher at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, questioned how the results could be interpreted as good news “unless your priors were unreasonably catastrophic.”

“It depends on what happens to hospitalizations and deaths, as Andrew Pollard said this morning,” Charlotte Houldcroft, PhD, a post-doctoral research associate at Cambridge University in the UK, replied.

Houldcroft was referring to a comment this week from Andrew Pollard, MBBS, PhD, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who said if most people with COVID-19 are kept out of the hospital with the current vaccines “then the pandemic is over.”

Pollard also told The Guardian: “We can live with the virus; in fact, we are going to have to live with the virus in one way or another. We just need a little bit more time to have certainty around this.”

Seasonal Variation?

Others acknowledge that even though cases are dropping in the US, it could mean COVID-19 will transition to a seasonal illness like the flu. If that’s the case, they caution, a warm weather lull in COVID-19 cases could portend another surge come the winter.

But, Segreti said, it’s too early to tell.

“It’s reasonable to expect that at some point we will need a booster,” he added, but the timeline and frequency remain unknown.

Economic Indicators

The US economy is operating at 90% of where it was before the pandemic, according to the ‘Back to Normal Index’ calculated by CNN Business and Moody’s Analytics based on 37 national and seven state measures.

The index improved in 44 states in the week prior to May 26, which could also reflect an overall improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic.

State and federal unemployment numbers, job postings and hiring rates, and personal savings appear to be trending in a positive direction. In contrast, box office sales, hotel occupancy, and domestic air travel continue to struggle.

Explained: How to Talk to Anti-Vaxxers

Collectively, by turning around those who believe otherwise, we can save lives.

I am getting very tired of trying to convince people of the safety and need for vaccinations and then I reviewed this article. Erica Weintraub Austin and Porismita Borah helps us communicate with this population group. An estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people died from the flu in the United States during the 2019-20 flu season. And that was a relatively mild flu season, which typically starts in October and peaks between December and February.

The computer model predicted 300,000 deaths from COVID-19.

With the advent of flu season, and COVID-19 cases rising, a public health disaster even worse than what we’re now experiencing could occur this fall and winter. Two very dangerous respiratory diseases could be circulating at once.

This will put the general population at risk as well as the millions of people who have pre-existing conditions. Hospitals and health care workers would likely be overwhelmed again.

We are scholars from the Edward R. Murrow Center for Media & Health Promotion Research at Washington State University. As we see it, the only way out of the reopening and reclosing cycles is to convince people to get the flu vaccine in early fall – and then the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available. Right now, up to 20 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are already in human trials. Chances seem good that at least one will be available for distribution in 2021.

But recent studies suggest that 35% might not want to get a COVID vaccine, and fewer than half received a flu vaccine for the 2019-2020 season.

Getting Coverage

To arrest the pandemic’s spread, perhaps 70% to 80% of the population must opt in and get the vaccine. They also need the flu shot to avoid co-infection which complicates diagnosis and treatment.

Achieving herd immunity is a steep climb. We conducted a national online survey, with 1,264 participants, between June 22 and July 18. We found that only 56% of adults said they were likely or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Westerners were most accepting (64%), followed by Midwesterners (58%), with Southerners (53%) and Northeasterners (50%) least likely.

Anti-vaxxers, promoting unlikely scenarios and outright falsehoods about vaccine risks, are not helping.

With all this in mind, we would like to share some myths and truths about how to increase rates of vaccinations.

Facts Don’t Convince People

People who support vaccination sometimes believe their own set of myths, which actually may stand in the way of getting people vaccinated. One such myth is that people respond to facts and that vaccine hesitancy can be overcome by facts.

That is not necessarily true. Actually, knowledge alone rarely convinces people to change behavior. Most decisions are informed – or misinformed – by emotions: confidence, threat, empathy and worry are four of them.

Another myth is that people can easily separate accurate information from the inaccurate. This is not always true, either. With so much misinformation and disinformation out there, people are often overconfident about their ability to discern good from bad. Our research during the H1N1 epidemic showed that overconfidence can lead to faulty conclusions that increase risk.

Also, it’s not always true that people are motivated to get accurate information to protect themselves and their loved ones. People are often too busy to parse information, especially on complicated subjects. They instead rely on shortcuts, often looking for consistency with their own attitudes, social media endorsements and accessibility.

And, to complicate matters, people will sometimes disregard additional fact checking that contradicts their political beliefs.

Assuming that people who get the flu vaccine will also get the COVID-19 vaccine is a mistake, too.

In our survey, 52% of respondents said they got a flu or other vaccine in the past year, but only 64% of those who got a vaccine in the past year said they were somewhat or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine. On the other hand, 47% who did not get a recent vaccine said they were somewhat or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ways that Do Help

Here are five things you can do to encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vaccinate and to seek out reliable information:

  1. Help them discern trustworthy news outlets from the rest. Is the outlet clearly identified? Does it have a good reputation? Does it present verifiable evidence to back up claims? It is hard to know whether a site is advancing a political agenda but check the “about” or “sponsors” type of links in the menu on the homepage to gain a bit more information. People should be particularly suspicious if the source makes absolutist claims or evokes stereotypes. An anger-provoking headline on social media might be nothing more than manipulative clickbait, intended to sell a product or profit in some way from a reader’s attention.
  2. Make trustworthy news sources accessible and consistent by putting them on your social media feeds. Community service centers are a good one. Partner with opinion leaders people already trust. Our survey respondents viewed local news and local health departments more useful than other outlets, although favorite sources vary with their age and political orientation.
  3. Provide clear, consistent, relevant reasons to get the vaccines. Don’t forget the power of empathy. Our survey says only 49% thought a COVID-19 vaccine would help them, but 65% believed it would help protect other people. Avoid the temptation to use scare tactics and keep in mind that negatively framed messages sometimes backfire.
  4. Remember that skepticism about vaccines did not happen overnight or entirely without cause. Research shows that mistrust of news media compromises confidence in vaccination. Many are also skeptical of Big Pharma for promoting drugs of questionable quality. The government must too overcome mistrust based on past questionable tactics, including “vaccine squads” targeting African Americans and immigrants. Honesty about past mistakes or current side effects is important. Some information about vaccines, widely disseminated in the past, were later revealed to be wrong. Although the evidence for the efficacy of vaccines is overwhelming, any missteps on this subject breed mistrust. One recent example: Two major studies about COVID-19 treatments were ultimately retracted.
  5. Let them know that science is the answer, but it requires patience to get it right. Scientific progress is made gradually, with course corrections that are common until they build to consensus.

And emphasize the things we are certain of: The pandemic is not going away by itself. Not all news outlets are the same. Both flu and COVID-19 shots are necessary. And vaccines work. Collectively, by turning around those who believe otherwise, we can save lives.

How to Talk to Someone Who’s Hesitant to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

I really like this set evaluation and set of suggestions put together by Elaine K. Howley, for Dr. Gabriel Lockhart, a pulmonologist and critical care intensivist at National Jewish Health in Denver, the question of how best to approach loved ones who are vaccine hesitant hit very close to home.

Lockhart, who is also the director of the ICU for National Jewish Health, has been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginning, traveling to New York a few times to help out during the peak of its COVID crisis. “I had a lot of first-hand experience with the disastrous outcomes of COVID,” he says.

That, plus his background in pulmonary critical care medicine, has led to his working with Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado as part of the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee medical advisory group in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Public Health to address the pandemic in Colorado. “My specific focus was on vaccine distribution,” he says, which is a “very personal topic” for him because he’s African-American and Hispanic.

Communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, and deploying vaccines to populations that are more vulnerable has been a key component of public health messaging.

But many people in these (and other) communities are hesitant to take the vaccine. And for good reason – there’s a long history of mistrust between communities of color and American health institutions.

For some people of color, there are deep-seated and legitimate concerns that this could be a repeat of Tuskegee, Lockhart says, referencing the infamous “ethically unjustified” Tuskegee study, which intended to study untreated syphilis in Black men and involved misinformation, lack of informed consent and outright manipulation of participants.

Fearing this situation might be similar, with communities of color being misled in the name of medical studies, some people expressed to Lockhart that they felt like “lab rats.” These responses caused the advisory committee in Colorado to take a step back and evaluate how they would encourage people in these communities to take the vaccine.

Lockhart says his own mother was initially resistant to getting the shot. “She finally just recently got her second dose, but that took six to eight months of me pestering her to finally get that to happen,” he says.

For his part, Lockhart was cautious too. “I wasn’t going to take the vaccine and promote it to my family and friends and patients unless I was completely confident in its safety and efficacy.”

When the clinical trials concluded, he reviewed the data and soon felt 100% comfortable about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. He got his shots in December, among the earliest wave of health care personnel who were able to access the protective inoculation.

Making the Case for Vaccination

Since then, Lockhart has gone on to spread the message that the vaccines are safe, effective and everyone who’s able should get inoculated. He’s also learned that there’s a distinction between people who can be swayed and those who can’t be.

“When I approach people, who are hesitant about the vaccine, I think it’s first important to distinguish between those who are vaccine hesitant and those who are anti-vaxxers. Because those are two different things, in my opinion,” he explains.

“Vaccine hesitancy means they’re open to hearing information and making an educated decision based on good quality information they receive. They may not be wanting to go blindfolded into taking the vaccine. But if they’re willing to hear that information, then they can make an educated decision from that point.”

On the other hand, he says “anti-vaxxers are going to be dead set, no matter what information you tell them. They’re always going to be coming up with a firehose of misinformation and leading you down a rabbit hole of tangential information that isn’t really useful, accurate or helpful when it comes to vaccines. I don’t typically engage that much with purely anti-vaxxers because there’s really not going to be a lot of gain from that population.”

However, educational efforts can go a long way toward convincing those who are hesitant but open to learning more to take the vaccine to protect themselves and their communities, Lockhart says.

Dr. Julita Mir, a practicing internist and infectious disease physician and chief medical officer of Community Care Cooperative (C3) in Boston, urges patience and compassion when talking with others about taking the vaccine. “For most people, it’s a matter of time. We all move at different paces and accepting others’ pace is key.”

Find Out Their Concerns


Because there can be so many different, highly personal reasons why someone might be hesitant to take the vaccine, “it’s best to approach people in a supportive and respectful manner, and make it clear that your goal is to understand what their concerns are,” says Dr. Richard Seidman, chief medical officer of L.A. Care Health Plan – the largest publicly operated health plan in the country.

“We can’t assume what others are thinking or feeling, so it’s best to ask. Once we understand others’ concerns more clearly, we’re better able to engage in a meaningful discussion to explore how to best address their concerns.”

Dr. Lisa Doggett, senior medical director for HGS AxisPoint Health, a care management services company based in Westminster, Colorado, and a newly appointed fellow with American Academy of Family Physicians’ Vaccine Science Fellowship, recommends asking “if there’s anything that might change their mind. If they say, ‘absolutely not,’ it’s probably a good idea to stop and agree to disagree. By continuing you’ll often force them to dig into their beliefs with even greater conviction.”

But, she adds, that if they show some glimmer that they might be willing to consider an alternate view point, “offer to provide one,” but first, “ask for permission. If they agree, proceed with care, stay calm and offer information that’s likely to be meaningful to that particular person.”

Dr. Charles Bailey, medical director for infection prevention at Providence St Joseph Hospital and Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, agrees that coming from a “place of love” often is more fruitful when trying to convince someone to get vaccinated.

He recommends saying something along the lines of: “‘I’m concerned about your reluctance to get a COVID vaccination because I care about your health and safety.’ And before going directly to examples of who you know who’s gotten the vaccine and had no or minimal problems, try to ascertain from where the reluctance originates.”

Ask questions like: “‘What in particular makes you hesitant to get vaccinated at this time?’ Phrasing it in this way provides room for a subsequent change in their decision later as more information comes to light and/or more consideration has occurred,” he explains.

Lockhart recommends “really making sure it’s a two-way conversation” that involves specific reasons. With a full explanation of where that hesitancy comes from, he says it’s possible to provide the accurate and correct information that can help move people toward getting the vaccine.

Mir also recommends “leading by example” and getting vaccinated yourself. “People tend to trust and be influenced more so by those in their close circles.”

Doggett adds, “at all costs, avoid insults and demeaning language, which would be counterproductive. And have realistic expectations. Not everyone

Countering Common Vaccine Concerns


There are a wide variety of legitimate reasons why some people may be hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine. These may include:

  • Speed that the vaccine was developed.
  • Safety.
  • Misinformation or misunderstanding the science.
  • Side effects.
  • Distrust of science, the government or medical authorities.
  • Underlying conditions that they believe might make them more vulnerable.

Speed of Development
For some people, the concern is the speed with which the vaccine was developed and how “new” the mRNA technology being used in two of the three shots currently available in the U.S. seems. But Lockhart notes, this approach to developing vaccines “isn’t that new. We’ve had experience with mRNA technology for the last two decades.”

Primarily, it was studied for use in cancer treatment and has also been investigated for use in vaccines against influenza, rabies and Zika. With all this scrutiny, scientists have developed “a good sense of the side effect profile when it comes to mRNA technology.”

The speed with which these vaccines were made available stems from that past experience with mRNA technology and the all-hands-on-deck approach that global health authorities took early on to bring this burgeoning crisis under control.

Lockhart uses an analogy to explain how it all came together so quickly. “It’s like having six different construction companies that were all employed to build separate skyscrapers. They’re told a skyscraper typically takes two years to build. But then they’re all told, ‘Hey, we need all of you to focus on the same skyscraper and expedite the production. Pivot your focus all on the same skyscraper.’ So, yeah. It’s gonna happen a lot faster when you already have infrastructure in place that all comes together for a common cause.”

Despite this fast-tracking, Bailey notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been clear from the beginning that “no short cuts in safety were taken” in bringing these vaccines into use this quickly. “The rapid development was facilitated primarily by massive governmental investment in private-sector pharma companies as well as liability protections.”

All the normal safety steps were taken in developing these vaccines, and because this was such an urgent need and highly scrutinized, all the trials were conducted to the most stringent standards. All three currently available vaccines in the U.S. have been found to be safe and highly effective.

The numbers may paint a clearer picture. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial included more than 43,000 participants. Of the group that received the vaccine (rather than a placebo) only eight individuals developed COVID-19. That’s compared to 162 in the placebo group. Of those infections, 10 were severe, but only one of those occurred in the vaccinated group, and the other nine were in the placebo group.

The Moderna vaccine trial included more than 30,000 people, and only five cases of COVID-19 were reported in the group that received the vaccine versus 90 in the placebo group. Of those 90 cases, 30 were severe. There were no severe cases of COVID-19 reported in the vaccine group.

The Johnson & Johnson one-dose adenovirus vector vaccine was trialed in nearly 44,000 people in eight countries. There were 116 cases of COVID-19 in the vaccine group and 348 in the placebo group at least 14 days after vaccination. Of those, only two were severe among the vaccine group, compared to 29 in the placebo group. Seven people in the placebo group died of COVID-19, while none died in the vaccine group.

For all three vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization because they were “at least 50% more effective than placebo in preventing COVID-19,” which is consistent with the organization’s guidelines for granting authorization. “A vaccine with at least 50% efficacy would have a significant impact on disease, both at the individual and societal level,” the FDA reports.

Some of the testing steps happened in tandem, which is part of how these companies were able to condense the timeline. There was also unprecedented collaboration across pharmaceutical companies. This helped move everything along faster.

“Just because they happened faster doesn’t mean it’s not a quality product,” Lockhart adds.

Safety
Concerns about safety are also common, Seidman says. For example, concerns about very rare blood clots caused the FDA to pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for 11 days in April to reevaluate the data. Putting a pause on a new vaccine or medication is not unusual, and it’s an example of the system working exactly as it should.

In this case, there were six reported cases of blood clots and one death related to the J&J vaccine. More than 6.8 million doses had been administered when the pause was initiated in mid-April. In other words, the chances of developing a blood clot from the J&J vaccine were observed to be quite literally less than one in a million. However, in an abundance of caution, the FDA paused use of the vaccine to reevaluate the data and found that “it’s a very, very small concern, and compared to the risk of blood clots with contracting COVID, it’s extremely small,” Lockhart says.

A November 2020 study conducted at UC San Diego Health and involving more than 8,000 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 noted that 20% of people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 will develop blood clots. For patients in the intensive care unit, the rate was 31%. The study also noted that blood clots led to an increased risk of death by 74%. So the risk of getting a blood clot from the vaccine is miniscule in comparison to the risk of getting a blood clot from COVID-19 itself.

Doggett notes that “nearly everything we do in medicine, and in life, carries some inherent risk. Medications have side effects; treatments and procedures can have unintended consequences. Sometimes the risks and benefits are nearly equal, and choosing the right path is difficult. However, with the COVID-19 vaccine, the risks of vaccine refusal are clear and are substantially greater, for almost everyone, than the very small risk of the vaccine.”

Physicians are constantly weighing the risk versus benefit of any intervention, and the COVID vaccines have been found to be very beneficial with exceedingly small risks.

Plus, there’s reassurance in numbers, Seidman says. “The fact is that nearly 150 million people have been vaccinated in the United States alone with very few serious side effects.” This is excellent evidence that the vaccines really are very safe.

“All approved vaccines have an excellent safety profile, which is regularly tested,” says Dr. Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at the Sheba Medical Center and a clinical associate professor in Tel Aviv University School of Medicine in Israel. This means safety testing isn’t just a one-and-done situation. These vaccines are constantly being monitored and evaluated. Any adverse effects are being carefully recorded, and if a safety concern does arise, as did with the J&J vaccine, use will be halted until further investigation can be conducted.

“Medicine in general and vaccine safety assessment specifically are scientific disciplines,” Leshem adds, and the science is showing these vaccines to be extremely safe and effective.

Misinformation or Misunderstanding the Science
“If misinformation is fueling the reluctance, simply supplying accurate information may dispel the nonacceptance,” Bailey says. To dispel some of these myths:

  • These vaccines can’t give you COVID-19. The vaccines do not include any live virus and thus cannot give you COVID-19. The vaccine triggers the immune system to manufacture antibodies against the disease.
  • They can’t affect your fertility. The CDC reports that there’s currently “no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems.”
  • They don’t contain other substances or materials that are harmful or controlling. Several bizarre conspiracy theories floating around the internet have suggested that the vaccines contain microchips or other nefarious ingredients that could be used to control people. These ideas are completely false and not based in science or reality.
  • You should get vaccinated even if you had COVID-19. That’s because while having had the disease offers some protection against future infection, there’s not enough data about that level of protection to know when it tapers off or how protective it is. If you’ve recently had COVID-19, you can receive the first dose of the vaccine four weeks after the onset of symptoms. The second dose can be administered after you’ve completed your isolation period (about 10 days). If you received certain treatments for COVID, including convalescent plasma or antibody infusions, you’ll need to wait 90 days before you can take the vaccine.
  • These vaccines can’t change your DNA. Some people have misunderstood what mRNA is and how it works and believe that this approach can alter your DNA. But that’s not true. “There’s no interference of your DNA. The vaccine doesn’t affect your DNA at all,” Lockhart says.

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines both use mRNA to stimulate the body to create the antibodies it needs to fight off infection from the coronavirus. mRNA is messenger RNA, and in this context, it refers to a piece of the virus’ spike protein. This molecule contains a a piece of genetic code that instructs your cells to create antibodies against the coronavirus. To do this, the mRNA doesn’t even enter the nucleus of the cell – the cell breaks it down and removes it after it’s finished using the instructions.

Side Effects
For some people, it’s a prior negative experience that’s driving their reluctance. In this case, whether the concern is a bad reaction to another vaccine or concerns about side effects that someone else has experienced, Bailey says discussing the facts around the statistics can help dispel some of that hesitation. He notes that the risk of severe side effects from the COVID vaccines is very low and much lower than the risk of getting COVID if you don’t get vaccinated.

Many people experience no side effects from any of these vaccines. But for others, after having one or both shots, they have reported experiencing:

  • Soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site.
  • Mild, flu-like symptoms, including a headache and body aches.
  • Tiredness.
  • Low-grade fevers.

Most of these side effects are mild and resolve quickly – within a day or two for most people. They’re also normal and signs that the vaccine is working to get your immune system ramped up to better meet the challenge if you’re exposed to the coronavirus in the future.

The most common side effects are also likely to be far less intense than if you were to get infected with COVID, so it’s worth it to feel a little lousy for a few hours – or even a couple days – after your shot if it means protecting yourself – and others – from a potentially far worse outcome if you caught the disease.

In very rare cases, some people have experienced more intense side effects including:

  • Severe allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. This has been observed in approximately two to five patients per million people vaccinated. This reaction also almost always occurred within 30 minutes after vaccination, which is why recipients are instructed to wait 15 to 30 minutes after each shot for observation.
  • Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. Also called TTS, this condition involves blood clots with low platelets. This very rare syndrome has occurred almost exclusively in adult women younger than age 50 who received the J&J/Janssen vaccine. According to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, as of May 11, 2021, more than 9 million doses of the J&J/Janssen vaccine had been given and 28 reports of TTS had been confirmed.

It’s important to underscore that these effects have been observed in a very small proportion of patients.

In addition, the CDC reports that there’s currently no evidence that there’s a causal link between the vaccine and any deaths apart from a “plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and a rare and serious event – blood clots with low platelets – which has caused deaths.” The CDC and the FDA are continuing to monitor all adverse events and deaths and are reporting such to the VAERS.

Distrust of Science, the Government or Medical Authorities
Seidman also notes that “many people just don’t like being told what to do, especially if the message is coming from the government.” This is where community-based initiatives to educate and provide vaccines to people where they are can be especially useful.

“I’ve been working on talking to several community groups and leaders so they can answer questions and disseminate this information to their communities,” Lockhart says. Talking with a trusted adviser, such as a church elder or a barber, may offer more reassurance to hesitant people than speaking with a doctor, he adds. “If I can get buy-in from those folks, I think that’s the best efficacy. We can get people to accept the true information about these vaccines” because it’s coming from a trusted community leader.

Doggett adds that “for those who are concerned about personal liberties, a message that will sometimes resonate is that vaccinating more people will help encourage the government to lift restrictions and increase freedom in the long run.”

Leshem notes that this has already happened in Israel, where as of May 10, 2021, nearly 63% of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. “As we’re now experiencing in Israel, when most of the population are vaccinated disease spread declines and it is possible to go back to living a normal life.”

Barriers to vaccination such as the long history of racism and, as Seidman explains, “government-sanctioned experimentation on low-income people of color that has eroded trust” may be more difficult to combat. Lockhart says that while these are very legitimate concerns, avoiding the vaccine is only going to worsen the disparity in outcomes between white communities and communities of color.

Again, community-based, grassroots outreach efforts may be better for convincing people who have this as their primary concern. There needs to be a re-establishment of trust with agencies and entities that purvey medical information and care. “My advice is to get the facts from a trusted source of truth, like your doctor or from your faith-based leaders. And be careful not to accept what you might hear or read in biased media sources,” Seidman says.

“Many people tend to trust their primary care doctors, and building on that trust to overcome vaccine hesitancy is important,” Doggett says. And across the board, she adds that “the medical community needs to communicate effectively and consistently about the safety of the vaccine to help improve vaccine acceptance.”

Underlying Conditions
For some people who are pregnant or have medical conditions, such as cancer, there’s been a lot of fear and confusion surrounding whether it’s safe to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that for most people with cancer or a history of cancer, the vaccine is safe and should be accepted, but individual cases may have other factors to consider, so talk with your oncologist.
  • Pregnancy. Though there has been some hesitation among pregnant people in taking the vaccine, studies have found that it’s safe and could actually protect your baby from contracting the virus after birth. The CDC’s V-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry is monitoring deployment of the vaccine in pregnant people. As of May 10, 2021, more than 110,000 pregnant people have been vaccinated. Talk with your obstetrician for advice tailored to your specific situation.
  • Immune disorders. If you have a chronic immune disorder or are taking medications that suppress the function of the immune system, you are eligible to get the vaccine. But you should talk with your health care provider about your situation.
  • Negative previous reactions to vaccines. If you’ve had a previous severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) you should not take the vaccine. If you have severe allergies to certain medications, latex, pets, foods or other environmental triggers, talk with your health care provider about whether it’s safe for you to take the vaccine.

“Referral to a family physician, nurse specialist or an infectious disease doctor can further help in more complicated cases, such as immune compromise, severe allergy or pregnancy,” Leshem says.

Why Vaccination Matters

The sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the better our chances of putting the pandemic completely behind us. “The COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool we have to get the pandemic under control, allowing us to get back to doing all of the things we need and want to do as individuals, families, business owners and as a community,” Seidman says. “Every additional person who gets vaccinated gets us one step closer to getting the virus under control.”

Still, as Doggett notes, “over a quarter of U.S. adults say they won’t get vaccinated. Their refusal makes it harder to stop the spread of the coronavirus, increasing infection rates and health care costs, and raising the risk of new, more dangerous variants. It also makes it more difficult for us to achieve herd immunity and effectively end the pandemic.”

This ongoing hesitancy to get vaccinated will drag out the pandemic and make it more difficult to resume life as usual, she says, because “the pandemic is far from over.”

In countries where vaccination rates are high, such as the UK, Israel and some parts of the U.S., cases are declining. “But rates of COVID-19 remain dangerously high in many parts of the world,” Doggett says. The higher these rates of infection, the more likely the virus will mutate into more dangerous strains that can undermine all the efforts over the past year to stamp out the pandemic.

“Even in the U.S., we’re still seeing tens of thousands of new cases every day and hundreds of deaths. The faster people get vaccinated, the faster we can stop the virus from spreading, and the sooner we can safely resume activities that many of us have given up during the pandemic, like travel, indoor dining and visiting family.”

The bottom line, she says, “getting vaccinated is the safest way to protect yourself and everyone around you from getting sick. It’s also an important way to stop the creation of new variants of the virus, that may be more virulent, more resistant to the vaccine and could extend the pandemic.”

Vaccine refusal, on the other hand, “will lead to higher health care costs, damage to the economy, and more people living with long-term COVID-19 complications, such as damage to the heart, lungs and brain that we’ve started to see in as many as a third of COVID-19 survivors.”

“Getting vaccinated is a personal decision,” Seidman notes. But choosing “not to get vaccinated is a decision that impacts everyone.”

Estimates of the number of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity have typically ranged from 60% to 80% or so, but there are still many open questions about how durable immunity is and when we’ll have reached the threshold of protection.

In the meanwhile, getting vaccinated and convincing your friends and loved ones to do the same is our best means of moving out of this crisis. For his part, Seidman says “the COVID-19 vaccines are really a miracle of modern science. These vaccines are very safe and effective in preventing infection, hospitalizations and deaths from the worst pandemic in 100 years.”

And now with the Delta variant, Some areas of the U.S. could see “very dense outbreaks” of the Delta coronavirus variant throughout the summer and fall, particularly in states with low vaccination rates, according to CBS News.

The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, now makes up about 20% of new cases across the country. The variant has led to surges in parts of Missouri and Arkansas where people haven’t yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s going to be hyper-regionalized, where there are certain pockets of the country where we can have very dense outbreaks,” Scott Gottlieb, MD, former commissioner of the FDA, said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“As you look across the United States, if you’re a community that has low vaccination rates and … low immunity from prior infection, the virus really hasn’t coursed through the local population,” he added. “I think governors need to be thinking about how they can build out health care resources in areas of the country where you still have a lot of vulnerability.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who spoke on “Face the Nation” before Gottlieb, also expressed concerns about the Delta variant. Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, which Hutchinson attributed to vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The Delta variant is a great concern to us,” he said. “We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations.”

Hospital admissions increased 30% during the last week, and the University of Arkansas Medical Center reopened its COVID-19 ward. The state is offering incentives for people to get vaccinated, but they haven’t been successful, Hutchinson said. About 50% of adults are vaccinated, and public health officials want to move the needle higher.

“If incentives don’t work, reality will,” he said. “As you see the hospitalizations go up, the cases go up, I think you’ll see the vaccination rate increase as well.”

The Delta variant has been detected in 49 states and the District of Columbia, CBS News reported. The strain is more transmissible and can cause more severe COVID-19. The U.S. and other countries have marked the Delta variant as a “variant of concern” to monitor as the pandemic continues worldwide.

The Delta variant has become the dominant strain in the U.K. and now accounts for 95% of cases that are sequenced, according to the latest update from Public Health England. On Sunday, Gottlieb said the U.S. is about a month or two behind the U.K. with local surges in cases due to the variant.

“They’re seeing cases grow,” he said. “The vast majority are in people who are unvaccinated … the experience in the U.S. is likely to be similar.”

My friend, former patient and cartoonist, Rick Kollinger, succumbed to his long battle with cancer picture him at the Golden Gates with a sketchpad in hand waiting to draw all of those that he surely will meet, possible insult, and entertain. I and many others will miss you.

Happy Fourth of July to ALL! Let us reflect on the history and the future of our great country. Take a moment to consider what we all have achieved this past year and focus on what we can accomplish in our future.