This week marks the one-year anniversary of March 11, 2020, when Covid-19 was officially upgraded from an epidemic to a pandemic by the World Health Organization. At that time, there were less than a 1000 known cases in the U.S. and infectious disease experts were still hopeful we could get the virus spread under control. It was the first time in a century a communicable disease was categorized a pandemic of this severity (and hopefully, the last for at least another century). I don’t need to go into all the minute details, because we have all lived through it, but it is important to remember that in a year we have lost over 500,000 Americans to Covid.
I have reflected a lot this week on what we have gone through as a society. Everyone has lost something this past year – anything from a sense of normalcy to a loved one. Our healthcare system was pummeled and we all feel isolated. However, we have made incredible headway from where we were last spring. Reading back over my article about my experience working in NYC hospitals during the early months of the pandemic, I was surprised both by just how much progress we have made and how much I have repressed my memories from those times. I hope we never have to experience anything like that again in our lifetimes. And although case numbers are going down, we must be mindful that the average death number continues to range 1,500-2,000 per day. This fight is nowhere near over, but there is hope on the horizon.
President Biden’s first prime-time address on Thursday was one of somber contemplation and hope. “The past year has been one filled with the loss of life and the loss of living for all of us,” Biden said. The speech was a perfect combination of grieving for the people and things we have lossed in the past twelve months and looking forward to the future with a sense of realistic optimism. Biden reminded us that help is coming, and if we can keep up our habits of social distancing and masking for a while longer, we will be able to get Covid under control. We are running the last mile of this marathon. If we can just give it our all for a little while longer, maybe, just maybe, we will be living it up come July 4th. The speech left me inspired and motivated. “Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do.” I guess this is what a presidential address is supposed to sound like.
So where are we with Fauci ouchies? I know, I know. I should know better than to be calling these life-saving vaccinations the “Fauci ouchies,” but I heard it once and now, I can’t help myself. Besides, Fauci is one of the few public figures who has remained fairly-consistent and reliable in 2020. I mean, a public-health official who was actually qualified for his post and who shared scientifically-proven and sensible information with the American people existed last year? Go figure. But I digress…
It has been quite the month for SARS-CoV2 vaccinations. You may recall in my last vaccine article that Biden’s goal of 1.5 million vaccinations per day sounded quite lofty. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have far surpassed that. As of right now, nearly 100 million Americans have received at least one dose of the SARS-CoV2 vaccine. That’s roughly 20% of Americans (remember both Pfizer & Moderna are 2-part vaccinations)! And it is only mid-March. The average vaccine administration rate in the past month was 2 million vaccinations per day, and that takes into account the vaccination site closures during recent snowstorms. In fact, last Saturday we reached a record high of nearly 3 million vaccinations in one day! The antibodies obtained from this continuously improving vaccine rollout, combined with people who were previously infected, means about 40% of the U.S. population has some form of protection from Covid. This is likely a conservative estimate, since it only includes the rate of known positive tests. Regardless, we are still nowhere near herd immunity, so now is not the time to become relaxed with precautionary measures.
Johnson & Johnson received FDA emergency use authorization on February 27th, and since then has promised to produce nearly 100 million vaccines for U.S. use by the end of May. As I’m sure you’re aware, J&J’s vaccine is a “one and done” shot. There has been much discussion on the variance between efficacy rates of Moderna’s, Pfizer’s, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines, but what we do know is that people who have been vaccinated with ANY of these vaccines are not developing severe Covid symptoms that require hospitalization. The fact of the matter is that all of these vaccines are saving lives.
With three vaccines on the market, a goal of an average of 3 million vaccinations daily seems quite feasible, especially considering that J&J’s vaccine does not require the extremely low temperatures for preservation and is (currently) a one-time dose. With Biden’s announcement that the White House will direct states to make all adults over 18-years-old eligible to receive the vaccine by May 1, the majority of adult Americans may be vaccinated by summer. His rollout plan includes several new actions to speed up vaccinations, including the use of dentists, veterinarians, medical students, retired nurses and doctors to give the shots. While we all have the right to be skeptical after this past year, I personally feel that if NYC had the capability to build “pop-up” Covid hospitals in Central Park and the Javits Center last spring during a PPE, ventilator, and sedation shortage, an efficient vaccine rollout plan is more than feasible. So, keep your chin up. Your turn is coming.
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