The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Healthcare

New Covid-19 Mutation Is 'Potential Catastrophe'

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Many health officials are being asked whether or not they believe that the new COVID-19 variant that has been spreading rapidly in the U.K. could reduce the efficacy of the vaccines now being distributed. Socoiologist Zeynep Tufekci notes that so far, "many scientists" believe that this variant "will not decrease vaccine efficacy much, if at all." But Tufekci, in an article published by The Atlantic on the last day of 2020, also warns that even if the variant slamming the U.K. doesn't limit the vaccines' efficacy, the variant's arrival is still terrible news.

"A more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is a potential catastrophe in and of itself," explains Tufekci, a native of Istanbul, Turkey who now lives in the United States. "If anything, given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is, in some ways, much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That's because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth — whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected."

Tufekci adds, "Increased transmissibility can wreak havoc in a very, very short time — especially when we already have uncontrolled spread in much of the United States. The short-term implications of all this are significant, and worthy of attention, even as we await more clarity from data. In fact, we should act quickly, especially as we await more clarity — lack of data and the threat of even faster exponential growth argue for more urgency of action."



Some cases of the new COVID-19 variant have already been found in the U.S. And Tufekci stresses that even though this variant doesn't appear to be any more likely to kill the infected person than the familiar COVID-19 strain that has been raging in the U.S., the fact that it is so infectious is major cause for concern.

"Severity increases affect only the infected person," Tufekci explains. "That infection is certainly tragic, and this new variant's lack of increase in severity or lethality thankfully means that it is not a bigger threat to the individual who may get infected. It is, however, a bigger threat to society because it can dramatically change the number of infected people. To put it another way, a small percentage of a very big number can easily be much, much bigger than a big percentage of a small number."

Tufekci notes that according to estimates by scientists, the new COVID-19 variant — which is being called "B117" — is around 50-70% more transmissible than "regular COVID-19." And she stresses that the variant might require even stricter precautions and social distancing measures.

"This uncertainty in understanding the variant's exact mechanisms means that we don't know if our existing tools — masks, distancing and disinfecting — are as effective as they were compared with an identical scenario with the regular variant," Tufekci writes. "To be clear, the variant is still a respiratory virus; so, the basic tools will not change, and they will all continue to work. In fact, they have become more important, but we may need to be stricter — less time indoors, better masks, better ventilation, more disinfection of high-touch surfaces — to get the same bang for our protective buck. It may be a small difference, or not. We don't know. We won't know for a while."

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

The US Is Not Even Close To Trump's Vaccine Goal

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Top infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that Donald Trump's administration has fallen far short of its projected goal for number of vaccines administered by the end of the year — about 18 million short, in fact.

The administration had previously promised to deliver and administer 20 million vaccines by the end of the year. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker, only about 2.1 million Americans had received the first dose of the vaccine as of Tuesday morning.

Fauci said on CNN Tuesday that such a rate was "certainly not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December."

"Even if you undercount, 2 million as an undercount, how much undercount could it be?" Fauci added. "So, we are below where we want to be."

Trump officials responsible for vaccine rollout have admitted Operation Warp Speed failed in its goal to vaccinate 20 million by year's end.

"Exactly how fast the ramp-up of immunizations, shots in arms, is slower than we thought it would be," Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the Trump official helming distribution, said in a press conference last week. "And as I told you earlier, we're here to help the states to accelerate appropriately."

Army Gen. Gustave Perna, in charge of logistics of Operation Warp Speed, blamed delays on lag time between production and shipment.

"We all made the error or mistake of assuming that vaccine that's actually produced and being released is already available for shipment, when, in fact, there is a two-days lag between the time at which we generate a lot of data that shows this vaccine vial is actually safe and right and the time we can ship it," Slaoui said to CNN.

State officials have criticized Trump for his delay in signing the latest COVID relief bill — which he ultimately signed on Sunday — which, by extension, reportedly held up billions of dollars intended for vaccine distribution.

But Fauci said hope was on the horizon. "I believe that as we get into January, we are going to see an increase in the momentum," he said. "I hope allows us to catch up to the projected pace that we had spoken about a month or two ago when we were talking about the planned rollout of the vaccinations."

President-elect Joe Biden has faulted Trump for the delay on vaccine rollout as well. According to his pandemic advisory team, Biden intends to invoke the Defense Production Act to exponentially increase the rate of vaccine production once he takes office in January.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.