By Ciara Linnane
A growing chorus is warning that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, and urging people everywhere to continue to adhere to public safety measures and get their vaccine shots, as many places, including parts of the U.S., are still being engulfed with waves of new cases.
The issue was summed up this week by Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the White House’s COVID-19 response team, in a Twitter thread that questions comments by pundits suggesting the crisis is over.
Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner during the first half of Donald Trump’s presidency, has drawn attention of late with his public remarks that the U.S. is closer to the end than the beginning of its delta wave and that the pandemic could be history in the U.S. by January . (He’s been promoting a book on the pandemic that was published in September.)
The U.S. is still averaging almost 1,200 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, meaning it is suffering casualties on the same scale as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks every three days.
And while cases and hospitalizations have come down, the country is still counting almost 75,000 new cases every day on average, the tracker shows, and almost 46,000 people are being hospitalized.
Experts are urging people not to assume that vaccines, and more recently some promising antivirals, are going to end the crisis, without the public playing its part. The ideal approach is for everyone, everywhere to continue to wear face masks in public, socially distance and avoid large indoor gatherings. The vaccines are not 100% effective, and breakthrough infections are occurring, even if those infections are unlikely to cause severe disease or death in the vaccinated.
The unvaccinated have accounted for most cases, hospitalizations and deaths for months now, deaths that could have been prevented. And media outlets continue to highlight tragic cases of people dying and with their last breath lamenting their own decision not to get their shots.
Europe offers a sad example of what happens when countries reopen too early and drop their safety requirements, assuming incorrectly that high rates of vaccination are enough, as Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, wrote in the Guardian Friday.
Topol outlines how three factors have led to a worrying rise in cases in Europe, which is the only region in the world showing rising cases and deaths on a weekly basis, as the World Health Organization said this week.
First, Europe was slow to vaccinate teenagers and children, who have been a key driver of spread, wrote Topol. Second, there are signs of waning immunity against the highly transmissible delta variant, and the AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +2.75% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +0.12% vaccine, which was first to win authorization in Europe, shows a decline in anti-spike antibody far earlier than the vaccine developed by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.93% and German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +0.53% , which was authorized later. That clarifies a need for boosters, but the adoption of a booster program in Europe has been slow.
Third, countries such as Denmark and Norway dropped all of their mitigation measures when they reopened, abandoning the wearing of face masks on public transport and in other settings.
“Throughout the world, the profound pandemic fatigue has led to the irresistible notion that the pandemic end is nigh, that masks, distancing, and other measures have run their course, essentially that enough is enough,” Topol wrote. “It is hard to imagine fighting a foe as formidable as [the delta variant] that a vaccine-only strategy can be effective.”