U.S. COVID deaths surpass Spanish Flu milestone
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming clip in the United States, the 675,031 who have died from the virus as of Sept. 21 exceeded the estimated 675,000 deaths that occurred during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Tuesday, 1,431 Diné have succumbed to COVID-19 compared to an estimated 3,000 who perished from the Spanish Flu.
“Today, I want to speak about our need to come together against a common enemy — SARS-CoV-2 and the Delta variant,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a White House COVID Response Team press briefing last Friday.
“We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic,” she said, “with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas.”
The recent uptick in cases follows the summer surge that was fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in many communities across the country, according to the CDC.
Walensky said the dominant Delta variant is spreading with “incredible efficiency” and now represents more than 83% of the virus circulating in the U.S.
As of Sept. 19, the CDC reported a seven-day average of 1,448 deaths per day in the U.S., representing a 17.4% increase over the prior week.
A total of 41.5 million COVID-19 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic with a current seven-day average of 146,182 cases per day, representing a 6.1% increase over the prior week.
“I’ll start just by acknowledging the obvious — what we’re all seeing in the numbers — that it is troubling to see this rise in COVID cases, and it’s another reminder that we’re not out in the woods yet,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said.
Pfizer announces vaccine safe for kids 5-11
In a bit of promising news, on Monday Pfizer-BioNTech announced that results of their COVID-19 vaccine trial in participants 5 to 11 years of age indicated the vaccine was safe, well tolerated and showed “robust” neutralizing antibody responses.
“Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO.
“We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” he said.
Since July, Bourla said pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240% in the U.S.
“These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency,” he said.
In the face of the Delta threat, the Response Team emphasized that COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against serious illness and death and high vaccination coverage is proven to reduce the spread of the virus.
Furthermore, the less a virus spreads, the less opportunity there is for new variants to emerge.
Over 181 million Americans, or 54.6% of the U.S. population, have been fully vaccinated, including over 80% of those most vulnerable, individuals 65 years and older.
The efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are 95%, 94% and 72%, respectively, said infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.
However, in a new report released by the CDC on Sept. 17, protection for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine declined over four months after vaccination.
The report indicated that among U.S. adults without immunocompromising conditions, the durability of vaccine’s effectiveness against COVID-19 hospitalization during the period March 11 to Aug. 15, 2021, was higher for the Moderna vaccine (93%) than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (88%) and the J & J vaccine (71%).
Walensky encouraged the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, saying that being fully vaccinated gives you a high degree of protection against infection and an even a higher degree of protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
“These vaccines are some of the most effective that we have in modern medicine,” Walensky said. “And the good news is that current scientific evidence shows that our current vaccines are working as they did in clinical trials, even against the Delta variant.”
Walensky said COVID-19 infections are much less common in vaccinated people compared to the unvaccinated, and most “breakthrough” infections in vaccinated individuals are asymptomatic or mild.
“It’s important to remember that infections after vaccination are expected,” Fauci said. “No vaccine is 100 percent effective. However, even if a vaccine does not completely protect against infection, it usually, if it’s successful, protects against serious disease.”
Walensky said that many places in the country where cases are high at this time have low vaccination coverage and the greatest risk is to those who are unvaccinated.
“If you are not vaccinated, please take the Delta variant seriously,” Walensky said. “… You need to be wearing a mask to protect yourself and others around you. This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect.”
Boosters for high-risk individuals
In response to Pfizers’ application for approval for booster shots, last Friday the Food and Drug Administration Advisory panel recommended that those over 65 or at high risk for developing a severe COVID-19 infection get their third “booster” shot, but that all others 16 and older should not.
The majority of FDA panel members agreed that there was not enough evidence yet to recommend the booster shots for younger, healthier people.
However, they also advised that those in high-risk jobs like health care workers, emergency responders and teachers should also be eligible for the booster.
The FDA’s recommendation was a bit of a blow to the Biden administration that had announced previously that all Americans who had been fully vaccinated for eight months would soon be eligible for the booster.
In turn, Fauci urged Americans to wait to get a booster shot until they are eligible.
“Ultimately, while the threat of the Delta variant is here, while climbing infection rates are what we’re seeing day to day, primarily among the unvaccinated, it is more important than ever before that we not let our guard down,” Murthy said.
“And that’s why I’m asking everyone to please talk to your family and friends about getting vaccinated because you could be saving their life,” he said.