The Future of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Florida Gov. Won’t Vax Kids, World Covid Stats

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The future of the coronavirus pandemic

by the Guardian UK

A health worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine at a pop-up Covid-19 vaccination clinic operating at the MyLahore British Asian Kitchen in Bradford, West Yorkshire on 23 December 2021.

At the start of the pandemic, the idea of getting reinfected with Covid was not on anyone’s mind. But by April 2022, England had recorded over 890,000 reinfections, crushing any hopes of gradual herd immunity. A study published by Imperial College London last December found that the Omicron variant was five times more likely to reinfect people than Delta – meaning that reinfections will be relatively common now that Omicron, in its various forms, is the dominant variant in the UK. So what might the consequences of that be?

When is the next wave?

Covid-19 may eventually become a more seasonal virus, but epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have said that isn’t the case yet. With the harshest waves so far in the winter, it would be understandable to think that in the summer months infections are unlikely. But Covid-19 is not the same as it was in 2020: it has evolved. Real seasonality may take a few more years, which is why we are seeing an increase in infection rates – spurred on by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants – despite the fact that it is the middle of June.

Experts are warning that we are on the precipice of a new wave – the third of 2022 alone. Virologist Dr Stephen Griffin, quoted in Linda Geddes’ piece on the new subvariants last week, said that the idea that the virus is now something akin to the common cold was implausible: “It clearly isn’t, and there’s no pressure on it to do that, really.”

Another wave may be a case of when, not if, but the real concern would be the scale and severity of infections. Vaccines and antiviral treatments have helped keep hospitalisation figures down, but if that were to change, the NHS will face a real challenge: NHS England’s chief executive warned last week that frontline services are currently facing a situation “as challenging as any winter before the pandemic” because of staff shortages and inadequate provision of social care meaning patients cannot be discharged. There are already 6.5 million on waiting lists for treatment.

What about long Covid?

The ubiquity of reinfection can make it seem like catching Covid-19 is no big deal – and a new report by King’s College London could reinforce this idea. The study found that among Delta cases, 10.8% of people experienced long Covid – with Omicron that number was less than half, at 4.5%.

However, the researchers also pointed out that this data does not indicate that this will be the case for future variants. They note that one in 23 people who catch Covid-19 has symptoms for more than the standard maximum of four weeks – which is a lot of people. Long Covid isn’t fully understood yet, but two million people in the UK are thought to be living with its debilitating effects. (Do listen to this Today in Focus episode about what it’s like.) Symptoms reported by sufferers include continued breathing difficulties, extreme tiredness and fatigue, brain fog, and joint pain, making it difficult to get on with life. Accepting continual reinfection may mean exposing more people to these kinds of medium to long term health consequences, which we still know so little about.

What about immunocompromised people?

In late May, the Welsh government joined the rest of the UK in ditching restrictions. The next phase would be to “learn to live safely alongside coronavirus”. The question is how the 500,000 immunocompromised and immunosuppressed people in the UK are supposed to do that without ongoing measures –such as mask mandates and continuing comprehensive vaccination programmes.

Without those protections, exposure to Covid can prove life threatening for some people. Avoiding the disease in a country, and a world, that is determined to get back to pre-pandemic times, is not only dangerous for them, but poses a new threat altogether: a swiftly deteriorating quality of life and exclusion from the outside world. Back in February, Frances Ryan wrote that a new stance of “personal responsibility mixed with the good old blitz spirit” without more targeted help for the clinically vulnerable would write them off as “collateral damage”.

What’s next?

The biggest threat of all is a more dangerous new variant that current vaccines are even less effective against. And while most experts now believe zero Covid is a pipe dream, allowing coronavirus to run rampant increases the likelihood of its evolution.

Moreover, the emerging new subvariants are reportedly more resistant to the existing vaccines than the original version of Omicron. And while vaccine manufacturers are trying to create new iterations of them, it looks like the clinical trials can’t keep up with the ever-mutating virus.

Even then, there is the issue of eligibility: the autumn boosters will only be for more vulnerable adults and frontline social care and health workers. Is there any appetite for another universal vaccine drive from the government?

Covid may eventually become the equivalent of a cold. But we don’t know how long that will take – and the human price we will pay to get there.

Clyburn hits DeSantis’ decision not to vax kids

© Getty

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) demanded that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reverse or explain his decision after he declined to order COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 years of age.

In a letter sent Friday, Clyburn, the chairman of the the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, added that he was concerned by DeSantis’s public comments that he is opposed to dedicating any state resources to vaccinating young children against COVID-19.

“As a result of your refusal to participate, Florida parents who wish to vaccinate their children may be forced to wait even longer, and their children could be left without the protection these vaccines provide,” Clyburn wrote.

He stressed that every state but Florida ordered vaccines, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday gave the green light to COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 and younger.

“There is not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to get COVID jabs to infants and toddlers and newborns,” DeSantis said on Thursday. “That’s not something that we think is appropriate, and so that’s not where we are going to be utilizing our resources.”

As The Associated Press noted on Friday, individual health providers in Florida are now able to order shots, but the state did not preorder them.


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