It’s bad enough that the United States has had, per the New
York Times, 42.6 million coronavirus cases and 680,000 deaths. How we have handled Covid-19 has precipitated
real concerns, which have contributed to those totals and, if unresolved, will also
damage how we do in the future.
In “The Extremely Weird Politics of Covid, in the September
21st New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat documented how,
just before the pandemic caused restrictions, The London Review of Books,
a “highbrow left-of-center publication,” said good things about civil
disobedience during the 1600s Florence plague, agreeing with people defying
“quarantines, lockdowns, and what we now call social distancing,” whereas such
resistance is now almost exclusively advocated by conservatives. Also, last year, “the right briefly favored
restrictions when they seemed likely to fall mainly on foreigners and the left
briefly suspended its zeal for restrictions when the transgressors were
left-wing protestors.” All of this shows
that neither side has been consistently principled, meaning that neither has
always made American health their top priority.
On the issue of strangely missing information, two related
articles also appeared in the Times.
The first, Zeynep Tufekci’s August 29th “Show Me the Data!”
posed the following: “Who should get vaccine booster shots and when? Can vaccinated people with a breakthrough
infection transmit the virus as easily as unvaccinated people? How many people with breakthrough infections
die or get seriously ill, broken down by age and underlying health
conditions?,” along with “the Food and Drug Administration has asked that
vaccine trials for children aged 5 to 11 be expanded, but why weren’t they
bigger to begin with?”. F.D.A. and
Center for Disease Control, where are you?
Why is there no information, still, on the last three of these issues?
The second piece, “The Hard Covid-19 Questions We’re Not
Asking” on August 30th by Joseph G. Allen and Helen Jenkins, had more,
specifically “Does everyone need to wear a mask? Are unvaccinated children safe in schools?...
What happens if vaccines for children younger than 12 are approved at the end
of the year but only 35 percent of this age group get vaccinated” as is now the
case for 12 to 15-year-olds, “who have had access to vaccines for months”? If we reach March with similar children’s
inoculation rates, “does that mean masks should come off then anyway?” These authors also asked a higher-level
question, phrased as “What is the purpose of Covid-19 precautions now?” That is important, now that goals, for
example, of “Kids need to be in school, period,” “getting to zero infections
and staying at that level before dropping restrictions,” and to “make this
virus like a seasonal flu,” now conflict with each other.
On the explanatory side, another article, again in the New
York Times, clarified “Why Covid Vaccines for Kids Are Taking So Long”
(Daniel Carpenter, September 20th).
The author, who also wrote a book about this agency, blamed the F.D.A.,
which is now asking for “up to six months of child vaccine trial safety days,
rather than two, and larger sample sizes.”
He saw a difference, not acted on well enough by the F.D.A., between the
coronavirus and diseases for which “there are generally adequate existing
treatments or more time than Covid-19 allows,” justifying a slower approval
pace and more conservatism. He did
relate that Pfizer, for children aged 5 to 11, “will apply for emergency
authorization by the end of the month.”
Taking all this, we have “Six Rules That Will Define Our
Second Pandemic Winter,” by Katherine J. Wu, Ed Yong, and Sarah Zhang, an updated
version released in The Atlantic on September 21st. These precepts are “the role of vaccines has
changed (again)” from preventing all infections to stopping only the most
severe ones, “the proportion of vaccinated people matters, but who they are and
how they cluster also matters” as Americans without the shots are more likely
to do the latter than those in other countries and older victims tend to
require more ICU beds, “the people at greatest risk from the virus will keep
changing” with the faster-spreading Delta variant putting more children in
danger, “as vaccination increases, a higher proportion of cases will appear in
vaccinated people – and that’s what should happen” which makes sense since as
absolute numbers of a population decrease their percentages will also, “rare
events are common at scale” reminding us that for example 40,000 breakthrough
infections among 40 million inoculated people is still only one per thousand,
and “there is no single “worst” version of the coronavirus” as different variants
may prove to be most effective against the unvaccinated and vaccinated.
Even after all of the insights above, the best single thing
we can do has not changed. Get the