The unused “miracle”
CDC

The unused “miracle”

Before the advent of Covid-19 vaccines, the San Francisco Department of Public Health needed three whiteboards to capture all the names of senior facilities that had outbreaks, Jen Christensen reports.

But by February, when seniors were being vaccinated in greater numbers, the department started to erase names of the facilities from these outbreak lists. “It was sort of a very visible miracle,” Dr. Louise Aronson, a professor with the UCSF Division of Geriatrics, told CNN.

These “miracles” were playing out across the country this spring, according to a report published Tuesday by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which found that vaccinations prevented at least a quarter of a million Covid-19 infections and tens of thousands of deaths among seniors between January and May of this year.

Despite the country’s abundant supply of vaccines, it surpassed 700,000 deaths from the virus on October 1. The toll means the US continues to have more Covid-19 deaths than any other nation in the world.

It is a tragic milestone fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant and unvaccinated people. In July, authorities warned of the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” with outbreaks largely seen in parts of the country with low vaccine uptake.

“We’ve lost 700,000 Americans now and fully 200,000 of those folks have died since vaccines have been available almost to everyone in this country, and every one of those deaths is unnecessary,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said. “So even though the news is great for this antiviral agent, really the message that people need to receive is ‘get vaccinated.’ No one needs to die from this virus.”

Preventable Covid-19 deaths of children is also an embarrassment for a developed country, the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) top vaccine official, Dr. Peter Marks, said Tuesday, adding that it should also be a motivation for authorizing a vaccine in children.

Vaccines are only available to children as young as 12. That might soon change after the FDA’s vaccine advisers meet on October 26 to discuss data from Pfizer’s vaccine trial among children aged 5 to 11. However, parental hesitancy may prove to be an obstacle, as only a third of those surveyed by Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor said they would give their child a jab.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: What would an antiviral pill mean for the fight against Covid-19?

A: Early results for an experimental oral antiviral drug by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, called molnupiravir, found that it can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 by half. Merck says it will seek authorization from the FDA, and if it’s granted, the drug could be the first antiviral treatment available orally to fight the disease.

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said in a briefing last week that the best way to think of molnupiravir is as “a potential additional tool … to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid” but he added that vaccination “remains far and away, our best tool against Covid-19.”

While the prospect of a pill to prevent severe outcomes of Covid-19 is an exciting breakthrough in treating the virus, there is still much to learn about the drug and who it might work for. Full data from the molnupiravir trial is yet to be released, and this data has not been scrutinized, peer-reviewed or published.

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READS OF THE WEEK

Anger over UK quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travelers from India and much of Africa

Fully vaccinated travelers from India and many African countries will face mandatory quarantine in the UK, despite a relaxation of the country’s inbound travel rules. This has caused an outcry and accusations of discrimination, CNN’s Nimi Princewill reports.

The update to UK travel rules took effect October 4 and visitors from its “red list” of “high risk” countries — including India, more than 20 African countries and most Latin American nations — now have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days despite being fully vaccinated. South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, described it as “a political punishment.”

This comes as India’s top court on Monday approved the government’s decision to pay about $670 for every Covid-19 death in the country as compensation to the next of kin of those deceased. The payments will total more than $300 million, based on India’s current death toll, according to CNN’s calculation.

New Zealand is set to abandon its zero-Covid strategy

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday that the country will begin to move away from a zero-Covid strategy, toward living with the virus. While she has yet to announce a date for the shift, New Zealand is the latest country to announce an abandonment of elimination attempts in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant, CNN’s Ben Westcott reports.

This comes after a major outbreak in August, sparked by the Delta strain, plunged the city of Auckland into a long lockdown. And despite the city enduring more than six weeks of restrictions on movement, New Zealand still reported 24 new cases in the community on Tuesday — the majority in Auckland.

Ardern admitted Monday the virus was “a tentacle that has been incredibly hard to shake.”

Thousands of Brazilians demand President Bolsonaro’s impeachment over his mishandling of the pandemic

Protesters returned to the streets in major cities across Brazil last weekend, demanding the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro amid worsening economic conditions, rising unemployment, and hunger in the Covid-wracked country.

Thousands of people gathered in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — Brazil’s most populous cities — calling out his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. They also protested economic woes hitting ordinary Brazilians thanks to surging inflation and high fuel prices. Brazil continues to be hit hard by the pandemic and nearly 600,000 Brazilians have died from the virus — the highest death toll in the world after the United States.

TOP TIP

Are there any downsides to getting the booster shot?

Data from Israel, where there has been an extensive booster program, shows that the side effects from the third dose are comparable to those from the second dose. The most common side effects are local reactions like a sore arm and short-term symptoms like achiness, fatigue and chills that are resolved within a couple of days, said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

“The one concerning — though very rare — side effect is myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which appears to have the highest incidence among males of adolescent and young adult age. It’s important to note that the myocarditis associated with the mRNA vaccines is generally mild and resolves with no long-term harm — and that Covid-19 itself can cause myocarditis,” she added.

Read more about the booster shot here.

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