Future COVID Variants Will Likely Reinfect Us Multiple Times a Year, Experts Say

For more than a year now, the original COVID-19 vaccines have held up remarkably well — even miraculously so — against a Greek alphabet of new variants: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta.

But now experts say something is changing. Since the start of 2022, the initial version of Omicron, known as BA.1, has been spinning off new sublineages — BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.4, BA.5 — at an alarming pace.

Earlier variants did this too. But it never really mattered, because their offshoots “had no functional consequence,” according to Eric Topol, founder of Scripps Research Translational Institute. “They did not increase transmissibility or pathogenicity.”

Today’s rapidly proliferating Omicron mutants are different, however. They all have one worrisome trait in common: They’re getting better and better at sidestepping immunity and sickening people who were previously shielded by vaccination or prior infection.

The virus, in other words, is now evolving faster — and in a more consequential way — than ever before. Given the increasing speed of immune evasion, and what this pattern portends for the future, experts warn that the time has come to rethink our reliance on the vaccine status quo and double down on next-generation vaccines that can actually stop infection.

“As difficult [as] it is to mentally confront, we must plan on something worse than Omicron in the months ahead,” Topol wrote on May 15. “We absolutely need an aggressive stance to get ahead of the virus — for the first time since the pandemic began — instead of surrendering.”

The brewing storm of BA sublineages isn’t all bad news. COVID cases have been rising nationwide since the beginning of April, nearly quadrupling over the last six weeks to more than 90,000 per day on average. Yet both COVID deaths (about 300 per day) and ICU patients (about 2,000 total) are still at or approaching record lows — even though other countries with bigger gaps in previous exposure or vaccination have been hit hard, and even though new research shows that Omicron and its spinoffs are not, in fact, intrinsically less severe or deadly than prior variants, contrary to early assumptions.


Source: Future COVID variants will likely reinfect us multiple times a year, experts say — unless we invest in new vaccines

Critics by:

The new variants have not altered the fundamental usefulness of the Covid vaccines. Most people who have received three or even just two doses will not become sick enough to need medical care if they test positive for the coronavirus. And a booster dose, like a previous bout with the virus, does seem to decrease the chance of reinfection — but not by much.

At the pandemic’s outset, many experts based their expectations of the coronavirus on influenza, the viral foe most familiar to them. They predicted that, as with the flu, there might be one big outbreak each year, most likely in the fall. The way to minimize its spread would be to vaccinate people before its arrival.

Instead, the coronavirus is behaving more like four of its closely related cousins, which circulate and cause colds year round. While studying common-cold coronaviruses, “we saw people with multiple infections within the space of a year,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York.

If reinfection turns out to be the norm, the coronavirus is “not going to simply be this wintertime once-a-year thing,” he said, “and it’s not going to be a mild nuisance in terms of the amount of morbidity and mortality it causes.”

Reinfections with earlier variants, including Delta, did occur but were relatively infrequent. But in September, the pace of reinfections in South Africa seemed to pick up and was markedly high by November, when the Omicron variant was identified, Dr. Pulliam said.

Reinfections in South Africa, as in the United States, may seem even more noticeable because so many have been immunized or infected at least once by now.

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Botox, Billionaires, and Bitcoin: 2021 In Charts

This year, mercifully, saw quite a few notable improvements over the last. In 2021, vaccines became widely available, and many of the experiences we had to forgo in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, have begun to return in the second. Unemployment is low, and wages are rising.

That’s not to say we’re out of the woods with the pandemic. In fact, more Americans died of Covid-19 in 2021 than in 2020. And, motivated by widespread misinformation, a sizable portion of the eligible population still has not gotten a vaccine, even as variants like delta and omicron make it hard to feel at ease. Meanwhile, the richest Americans are accumulating even more wealth, and high inflation rates are making everyone’s money worth less.

Of course, many of this year’s trends existed long before the pandemic, though the public health crisis has certainly kicked some into high gear. What follows is a series of charts that attempt to illustrate some of the major trends of 2021. All data is from what was available in mid-December.

Vaccination rates are rising, but they may never be high enough

Currently, about 61 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, while 72 percent have received at least one dose. That rate is lower than much of the rest of the developed world, trailing China, Canada, and the UK, among others. While vaccination numbers have steadily ticked upward, thanks to a combination of public health campaigns and employer mandates, a good chunk of Americans — 13 percent — say they’ll never get the vaccine.

As such, it’s unlikely the United States will ever reach full herd immunity. Experts have estimated we’d need at least a 90 percent vaccination rate for the disease to eventually disappear, which is a far cry from current levels. Instead, Covid-19 will probably persist even after the most acute aspects of the public health emergency recede.

Work as it was wasn’t working out

There’s nothing like a pandemic to put things in perspective. After enduring the tragedy and trials of the past two years, many Americans are rethinking the importance of work in their lives. They’re reconsidering the types of work they do, how that work is done, and whether they want or need to work at all.

That’s led people to quit their jobs at record rates, and a confluence of factors is leaving millions of open jobs unfilled, especially low-paying or otherwise unattractive work. Of course, as the remnants of government benefits and elevated rates of savings slip away, these options will become less feasible. For now, though, the workers seem to have the upper hand.

Wages are rising because they have to

Worker power is most apparent in rising wages. In November, average hourly earnings for private employees rose to $26.40 for non-managers — up nearly 6 percent from the year before and high above typical levels of growth. Some of the biggest gains could be found in industries with the lowest wages, illustrating how the need for workers in less desirable industries is helping drive up what those workers make. The Conference Board expects wages to grow another 4 percent next year.

Lest the news seem too good, remember that high rates of inflation are cutting into real wage growth. Real average hourly wages were down nearly 2 percent in November, when adjusted for growth in the Consumer Price Index.

The return to the office has been pushed back

The return to the office was slated for this fall. However, after the arrival of the delta and omicron variants, January 2022 or “TBD” have become the new September 2021. Office occupancy among the biggest metro areas is at just 40 percent of what it was pre-pandemic, according to data from office keycard company Kastle Systems.

Some companies are deciding to go fully remote while others, more commonly, are electing for a hybrid model, where some workers go into the office some of the time. What that means for the future of office real estate is uncertain, but what’s clear is that remote work has become a perk to attract and retain workers, factoring in somewhere between higher pay and paid vacation. It’s also a trend that’s likely to stick around, even beyond the pandemic.

Unions are more popular than they’ve been in decades

Despite declining for years to just 11 percent of workers in 2020, some leading indicators suggest union membership could tick up in 2021. Popular approval of unions has grown to its highest level in half a century, according to annual polls from Gallup.

This year, a number of union actions, including 248 strikes as of early December according to Cornell’s Labor Action Tracker, as well as several very high-profile unionizing efforts at Amazon and Starbucks, have kept unions in the news. Additionally, legislation that passed the House and is currently in the Senate could make it much easier for employees to unionize in the future.

Antitrust action isn’t stopping mergers

The government has been taking a tougher antitrust stance in the past few years, increasingly suing companies for anti-competitive behavior and even threatening to break up Big Tech. That, however, hasn’t stopped these companies from trying to acquire other companies. In fiscal year 2021, there were 3,644 large merger transactions recorded — the highest number in two decades — according to preliminary data from the Federal Trade Commission, which requires companies to report potential mergers of a certain size. Even Facebook, which could be forced by the government to divest from previous acquisitions like WhatsApp and Instagram, has been on an acquisition spree.

While some of the jump in transactions can be explained by pandemic-related delays caused in 2020, the sheer number of pre-merger filings in 2021 is still way higher than it’s been in twenty years. Don’t expect this trend to stop anytime soon. Fiscal year 2022, which started in October, already has more than 1,000 merger notices.

It’s getting easier to hate billionaires

The owners of some of the biggest businesses are facing scrutiny as well. About half of Americans have a negative view of billionaires. It certainly doesn’t help the case of billionaires that their wealth swelled 70 percent during a global pandemic that left millions dead and many millions more out of work. The top 1 percent of Americans by wealth control a third of all household wealth in the US, up from about a quarter in the 1990s, according to data from the Federal Reserve. As more wealth gets concentrated in fewer hands, those whose hands aren’t flush are going to get more upset.

Crypto grew up, maybe

Still, others wish they could replicate that wealth, and they helped make 2021 the year cryptocurrency went mainstream. This year, crypto buying and selling platform Coinbase became the first major cryptocurrency company to go public in the United States, giving investors on the regular stock market a chance to invest in a crypto company.

Average Americans are also increasingly investing in cryptocurrencies themselves, through mainstream platforms like Square and PayPal as well as Robinhood and Coinbase. More than one in 10 Americans invested in cryptocurrency this year, according to a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago. Similarly, NFTs, digital assets whose ownership can be tracked using blockchain technology, have also surged in popularity.

By and large, crypto investors have seen the price of their assets increase this year — if they’ve been holding since the beginning of the year. The price of bitcoin, for example, was up 68 percent as of mid-December and had been up over 100 percent earlier in the year, according to CoinDesk. Dogecoin, which isn’t worth anywhere near as much, was up nearly 3,700 percent (so high, we didn’t include it in the chart, lest it eclipse everything else). Cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile, moving on everything from rumors of government regulation to an Elon Musk tweet, so a riches story can turn to rags real quick.

With meme stocks, the joke is on everyone

This year, amateur investors, trading on sites like Robinhood and getting financial advice from Reddit, have taken the stock market by storm. Through coordinated efforts loosely designed to disrupt Wall Street and hedge funds, they brought the price of so-called meme stocks up to levels not seen in years, if ever (though lately they’ve experienced a bit of a meltdown). The price of these nostalgic assets — often of companies that would have been more at home in a 2000s-era mall than a stock portfolio — grew untethered from their underlying financials, as their fate rests in diamond hands.

The supply chain entered popular parlance

Demand for goods is surging, but supply chain issues including clogged ports and a lack of workers are keeping that demand from being met. Supply delays hit record levels in October, according to data from information firm IHS Markit, which compiles an index of supplier delivery times. These supply chain issues have resulted in longer waits, less selection, higher prices, and generally lots of headaches. In turn, the term “supply chain” has transitioned from business jargon to popular parlance.

Inflation is popping

When delivery times rise, so do prices. Inflation was up 6.8 percent in November compared with a year ago, its highest annual rate since the early 1980s. Whether it’s true inflation or just supply chain stuff isn’t clear. What is clear is that Americans will have to spend a lot more than usual on everything from food to fuel to festivities this holiday season.

No news is good news

Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have been trapped at home and glued to the news, but after a tumultuous start of the year, our readership is returning to more normal levels, according to data from Parse.ly, which showed us page views from a sample of its customers like Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and Medium.

We read insatiably about the pandemic, but also about our former president. Publisher page views reached a record high on November 4, 2020, the day after Election Day; they also spiked during the Capitol riot. Since then, page views are down among the sample but still higher than they used to be.

ESG is the new WTF

One of the biggest corporate buzzwords this year was ESG, which stands for environmental, social, and governance criteria, both for running a company and investing in those companies. Thanks to an increased appetite for this type of investment, ESG and related terms skyrocketed this year on company earnings calls as leaders strove to make employees and investors aware of their commitment to ethical values.

The problem is that the terms are so loose — and loosely governed — as to be meaningless. Some investments marketed as ESG can be far from socially or environmentally righteous, including companies that profit from everything from private prisons to fossil fuels. Socially responsible governance and investing is certainly positive, but it requires more than following the latest marketing to achieve.

Event attendance is up but mostly not back to normal

Thanks to widespread vaccinations, people started to attend events in person again this year. Activities that were completely off-limits in the first year of the pandemic are becoming popular again in the second. Festival attendance in the US has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the second half of 2021, according to data from demand forecast company PredictHQ, partly because outdoor events are safer than indoor ones. Most other types of events, however, are still recovering.

It’s harder than ever to know what’s in or out, but that won’t stop us from trying

Thanks to the ephemerality of social media, trends are going in and out of fashion faster than ever. What was all the rage one moment can be forgotten by our collective memory the next (hi, TikTok pasta!). Add in a global pandemic putting the state of the world and everything in it in flux, and it can be very difficult to make heads or tails of popular consumption.

That’s why it’s always fun to take a look at Google Trends to try and guess what will be hot next and what’s already been left behind. We took a closer look thanks to the financial platform Sentieo, which stacks Google trends by year to see how this year’s trends compared to last year’s. But don’t bother trying to figure out what jeans or hair parts are cool — because that’s personal to you.

Rani Molla

By: Ronni Molla

Source: Botox, billionaires, and bitcoin: 2021 in charts – Vox


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How Many Cases and Deaths Could The Covid-19 Omicron Variant Bring In The US

Covid-19 cases are surging upward again in the United States, and public health experts are warning the fast-spreading omicron variant may push the number of infections to their highest level yet. Whether this surge will be followed by an unprecedented level of hospitalization and death is uncertain, but researchers say it’s possible the most devastating phase of the pandemic is yet to come.

Already, countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Denmark have seen sharp spikes in new Covid-19 cases, with some areas reaching record highs. South Africa has reported far fewer hospitalizations from omicron compared to previous waves, but the UK is is in the midst of a sharp rise in hospitalizations, about 30 percent higher week over week.

The big reason is that omicron appears to spread far more readily than the delta variant that has been dominant worldwide since the summer — omicron is 25 to 50 percent more transmissible, according to some UK estimates.

The current moment is an eerie echo of December 2020, when the first major variant of Covid-19 began infecting people around the world. But a key difference now is that there are effective vaccines that have been widely deployed in some countries. In the US, more than 70 percent of the population have had at least one dose of a vaccine and 30 percent of those vaccinated have received two doses and a booster, which should absorb some of the impact of omicron.

Yet epidemiologists and health officials are sounding the alarm about another tsunami of infections — in hopes people will take more precautions, and to help hospitals and health workers prepare to care for the sickest patients. “Omicron could be just as deadly as delta even if it causes milder disease,” Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who has advised the White House, told reporters this week. Considering the potential impact on the health care system is also crucial as decision-makers weigh another round of restrictions — closing schools, banning large gatherings, reimposing mask mandates.

In one of the most comprehensive forecasts to date, researchers from the Covid-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin on Friday chalked out 18 different scenarios for omicron. Their study was not peer-reviewed, but the findings show that the US is facing yet another dangerous variant while the conditions for spreading it — the holiday season — are at their most favorable.

The most optimistic pathway in the study would lead to more than 50 percent fewer deaths compared to last year — the six-month period spanning December 1, 2020, to May 1, 2021 — while the most pessimistic route would end with 20 percent more fatalities than that grim period last winter and spring.

“Everything we’ve seen so far — growth in Denmark, growth we’re seeing in the United States, in Canada, in the UK — suggests that these scenarios are actually very plausible … for our country,” said Spencer Fox, associate director of the UT Covid-19 Modeling Consortium.

A lot depends on the mutated virus itself, particularly how badly it sickens unvaccinated (and vaccinated) people. While some early reports have hinted that omicron causes a lower rate of severe Covid-19 illness compared to prior variants, there’s still not enough data to be sure. “It’s too uncertain right now to say that,” Fox said. (The UT model currently assumes that omicron’s severity is the same as with delta in unvaccinated people with no prior infection, and that protection against severe illness from prior infection and vaccines may be similar or reduced.)

Getting a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is the most effective action an already-vaccinated individual can take to protect against the variant, and if enough people get an extra shot, thousands of deaths could be averted this winter, according to the models.

However, communities around the US have so far responded in drastically different ways to the Covid-19 pandemic — some imposing policies that have slowed transmission, and others rejecting those policies and suffering terrible consequences in the form of overwhelmed hospitals and thousands of preventable deaths. So it’s likely that both the best and worst scenarios could play out in parallel over the coming months, in different places.

Omicron is set to become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the US

As people head indoors to warm up from the cold and celebrate the winter holidays, omicron will find ample opportunities to jump from lung to lung. In addition to its greater transmissibility, early results also show omicron can better evade the shielding provided by the immune system that’s built up from vaccines or from prior infections. One recent study suggests that antibodies produced to counter past versions of the virus are far less effective at curbing omicron, which could make the variant more likely to cause a breakthrough infection or reinfection.

At the same time, the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is continuing to wreak havoc, having recently pushed the US death toll above 800,000. Flu could come roaring back this winter, as well, generating a fresh wave of hospitalizations among the most vulnerable to that infection, too. The combined threats of all these respiratory illnesses could push some hospitals to horrific new levels of overcapacity — especially those already stretched thin from staffing shortages and other strains after two years of crisis.

Specifically, experts worry that hospitals will have to ration care or turn patients who need life-saving care away — something many hospitals had to do in earlier Covid-19 surges — if a a lot of new severely ill patients come flooding through the doors.

“Besides the toll of suffering and death which will inevitably go up if, in fact, we have that convergence in the winter months of flu and omicron and delta, we could get our hospital systems overwhelmed,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Thursday. But how bad, exactly, could it get?

Fox and his colleagues modeled Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths through the winter and into May 2022. For their 18 scenarios, they tweaked factors like the transmissibility of omicron, differing degrees of severity of the virus, the level of immunity in the US population, the likelihood of reinfection among Covid-19 survivors and breakthrough infections among those vaccinated, and the number of people who topped up their vaccine doses with a booster.

Under all the scenarios they modeled, omicron supplanted delta and became the main driver of Covid-19 infections, pushing case counts higher. “The first key finding is that unless significant transmission reduction happens in our communities, we’re likely to see an omicron surge that rivals the previous peak that we saw in January 2021,” Fox said.

The most optimistic scenario emerged in the researchers’ model when omicron was 50 percent more transmissible than delta and 10 percent better at eluding immunity from vaccines and previous infections, yet led to equally severe illnesses. That scenario also presumed many people will get boosters — at 80 percent uptake by March 2022 — but that no other policy or behavior changes are made to reduce transmission.

It predicted a Covid-19 peak in mid-January 2022, but with 8 percent fewer cases and 43 percent fewer hospitalizations than the same six-month period the year before. It also led to 54 percent fewer deaths, totaling 152,000 (still a grim result).

The worst outcome arose when the model assumed omicron was just as transmissible as delta, but far more evasive of prior immunity and much more likely to cause severe disease. In this scenario, prior immunity was 85 percent less effective at preventing infection from omicron, and protection against death was 22 percent lower. In this worst case, vaccine booster uptake remained fairly low, reaching only 57 percent by the end of March 2022. This resulted in Covid-19 cases peaking in early February 2022 and 342,000 deaths over six months, a 20 percent increase from 2021.

That Covid-19’s devastation could be even worse in an era of vaccines and treatments is tragic, a stark consequence of failing to get the pandemic under control across the country.

However, if the booster uptake rate increased to 80 percent, Covid-19 cases in this scenario dropped by 5 percent, hospitalizations by 12 percent, and deaths by 13 percent. That translates to 1.3 million averted infections and 39,000 lives saved between December 2021 and May 2022.

The scenarios show that there is a bit of luck involved in how harsh the next few months will be, but specific actions like getting booster doses of vaccines rolled out can vastly improve the outlook.

The US is not united when it comes to Covid-19

For millions of Americans, now two years into the pandemic, omicron is triggering an exasperating episode of déjà vu.

However, the question of the variant’s severity is still unclear. And researchers warn that even if omicron turns out to be less dangerous for individuals, it could still cause widespread damage if it continues to spread out of control.

The context for the omicron surge also varies throughout the country, something not accounted for in the UT Austin simulation. “This analysis is really just looking at an average across the whole country,” said Fox.

There are things it doesn’t factor in: the rate of preexisting health conditions, access to health care, exposure to prior waves of infection, adherence to mask-wearing, and vaccine uptake — which can be radically different around the country. Around 72 percent of the US population have received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, but in states like Idaho and Mississippi, only half have gotten it.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, is above 90 percent. There are around 90 million people who are unvaccinated against Covid-19 throughout the country, but many are concentrated in distinct regions, often aligned with political views.

That means omicron could play out quite differently in different parts of the country, with some places facing far more hospitalizations and deaths than others with high vaccination rates. And given how readily omicron can spread, the regions with lower vaccination rates that have so far lucked out of previous waves may now be vulnerable.

This is definitely not the time to let our guard down

People who have not been previously infected or immunized against Covid-19 face the greatest risk of omicron infection. But omicron has also shown that vaccinations are not an impermeable shield against infection.

Many omicron cases have been detected in people who completed their course of Covid-19 vaccines, even in some people who received booster doses. It’s a disheartening prospect for people who have rigorously followed public health advice throughout the pandemic, eager for it to be over.

“I share the frustration,” said Justin Feldman, a research fellow and social epidemiologist at Harvard University. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that [the coming omicron wave is] something that individuals can solve with their own personal behaviors.”

The most impactful measures for dealing with Covid-19 have to happen at the policy level, according to Feldman. That includes easily accessible widespread testing for Covid-19 to detect infections early so people can isolate from others and seek treatment, something the US is still struggling to do.

It also includes mandates for vaccines, quarantine and isolation rules for workers, regulations for indoor ventilation, making high-quality masks widely available, and training a corps of pandemic responders to administer tests, treatments, and vaccines.

“These are things Biden should have been trying to build since January 20, but largely hasn’t because the administration went with a very vaccine-centric approach,” Feldman said.

The pandemic playbook of maintaining social distancing, rigorous hand-washing, wearing face coverings, getting tested for Covid-19 after a possible exposure, and getting vaccinated remains useful, even if it doesn’t completely solve the problem.

With omicron, there are some tweaks to this; namely, for eligible vaccinated people to get boosters, and for people to ditch cloth face masks for higher-quality options like N95 respirators and KN95 masks.

Regardless of what course omicron takes throughout the country, health officials are bracing for a situation that will get far worse before it gets better. “I think we really do need to anticipate there probably will be a surge and increase in hospitalizations over the coming months,” Gounder said. Just how dangerous it will be is partly in our hands.

Umair Irfan

Source: How many cases and deaths could the Covid-19 omicron variant bring in the US? – Vox


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Covid Surge Worse Than Anything We’ve Seen

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said boosting vaccination rates will not be enough to contain soaring coronavirus infections across the country, Bloomberg reported, calling for tough action as countries across Europe come down hard on the unvaccinated and prepare drastic measures to smother the outbreak.

Key Facts

Merkel reportedly told officials from her conservative party on Monday that many Germans don’t appear to understand how severe the country’s outbreak is, according to Bloomberg, calling on individual German states to implement tougher restrictions this week.

The measures would exceed new restrictions barring unvaccinated people from public transport and many areas of public life—which apply in areas where hospitalized Covid-19 patients exceed a certain threshold—and health minister Jens Spahn said he could not rule out another nationwide lockdown.

Some politicians in Germany are debating following neighboring Austria—which went back into full lockdown Monday after a more targeted, unvaccinated-only lockdown—in requiring everyone to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

From February next year, Austrians refusing the jab will face fines of up to €3,600 ($4,000), with smaller penalties for those refusing booster shots.

Czechia and Slovakia have also started to make life harder for vaccine holdouts—Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger reportedly called the measures a “lockdown for the unvaccinated”—barring them from using various services, entering restaurants and public events.

Crucial Quote

By spring, “pretty much everyone in Germany… will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” Spahn said at a news conference Monday. “With the very contagious delta variant, it is very, very likely … that anyone who is not vaccinated will over the next few months become infected.”

Key Background

Europe has, again, become the center of the pandemic. Cases and deaths have been rising there even as they mostly fell around the world. The World Health Organization said it is “very worried” about the situation, warning that an additional 500,000 deaths could be recorded by March if sufficient steps aren’t taken.

Many countries, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, are facing dramatic surges and infections are at record-breaking levels. Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Czechia, Germany and the Netherlands are all at, or have hit, new highs and cases are rapidly rising in other countries.

Violent protests against new lockdowns and other restrictions have erupted across the bloc as governments scramble to contain rising cases. Many of these measures explicitly target the unvaccinated, who experts and officials warn are undoubtedly driving the new wave by refusing provably safe and effective vaccines.

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I am a London-based reporter for Forbes covering breaking news. Previously, I have worked as a reporter for a specialist legal publication covering big data and as a freelance journalist and policy analyst covering science, tech and health. I have a master’s degree in Biological Natural Sciences and a master’s degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. Follow me on Twitter @theroberthart or email me at rhart@forbes.com

Source: Covid Surge ‘Worse Than Anything We’ve Seen’: Germany Mulls Tough Restrictions As Europe Targets Unvaccinated With Lockdown, Compulsory Shots


Further Reading

Czechs, Slovaks target unvaccinated people in step behind Austria (Reuters)

Not Just Austria—Here Are The Countries Making Covid-19 Vaccination Compulsory For Everyone (Forbes)

Europe’s Carrot vs. Stick Approach to COVID-19 Vaccination (Atlantic)

Austria Sends Unvaccinated Into Lockdown—Here’s How Other Nations Are Limiting People Who Don’t Get Covid-19 Shots (Forbes)

Merkel Says Covid Spike ‘Worse Than Anything We’ve Seen’ (Bloomberg)

‘We Have To Face Reality’: Austria Announces Nationwide Vaccine Mandate, Full-Scale Covid-19 Lockdown (Forbes)

Lockdown And Restrictions Resurface In Europe As Continent Battles Another Covid Surge (Forbes)

The COVID Vaccine For Kids Is Almost Here. Let’s Not Forget The Children Who Made This Possible

This week Pfizer and BioNTech said that their COVID-19 vaccine was safe for children aged 5 to 11. If approved by the FDA for emergency use, it could be ready for children as early as late October. Since the emergence of the delta variant, children have accounted for more than one in five new cases, and more children are hospitalized now, as a result of the coronavirus, than at any other time in the pandemic.

The concern and frustration surrounding relatively slow approval of treatment for kids under 12 years old is nothing new. For decades, kids with cancer have had to wait for trials to improve drug options and improve patient outcomes.

The call to do more, faster, has gone unanswered by drug companies who don’t invest in trials for a small number of unprofitable kids and by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which allocates only 4% of its annual $6.56 billion budget to pediatric cancer and other rare diseases.

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Trials are a key component to curing cancer and achieving vaccine safety, yet come with a caveat that most parents aren’t willing to risk. It feels good to help mankind, but not at the expense of their child’s growing body.

In 2010, my husband and I agreed to send my 4-year-old daughter to trial to treat her stage IV high-risk neuroblastoma. Emily’s oncologist was desperate to enroll kids in the trial and we were desperate to get rid of the cancer. It was the most difficult decision we’ve ever made.

Emily received two back-to-back stem cell transplants. The theory was that two transplants — as opposed to one that was the protocol of care — would be better at killing the tricky neuroblastoma cells that often lurked and caused a relapse.

It would seem a no-brainer to want two opportunities to kill the cancer cells, but it wasn’t. Kids died during the transplants. The amount of chemo they got in one transplant would kill an adult instantly, but kids metabolized it quicker, so they lived, but just barely. Three weeks after being discharged from the first transplant, a kid in the trial would be admitted into the hospital for the second one. If the neuroblastoma didn’t kill them, the trial protocol might.

We wanted to do everything possible to prevent Emily from dying, so we agreed to the trial. We weren’t about to wait around for her cancer.

We watched her claw her way through line infections, thick mucus in her lungs and ICU visits. We doubted whether we made the right decision with every obstacle, especially when she needed surgery to drain seven ounces of liquid from her heart during her second transplant.

We wanted to do everything possible to prevent Emily from dying, so we agreed to the trial. We weren’t about to wait around for her cancer.

Emily almost got kicked out of the trial in the last few months when her damaged kidneys were failing and dipped below the trial parameters. After her tandem stem cell transplants, 21 rounds of radiation, and months of an experimental antibody therapy, she was so close to finishing. Yet somehow, with the help of smart doctors and more medicine, she finished the trial.

After 18 months, the trial was successful in eliminating Emily’s body of neuroblastoma cells, but it stole parts of her she’d never get back.

Emily, who’s now 16, has chronic kidney disease, estrogen levels of a post-menopausal woman, stunted growth, frail hair and a 65% bi-lateral hearing loss from the toxic drugs used during the trial protocol. It’s been the catch-22 of a lifetime: Agreeing to have her participate in a trial that saved her life, but also compromised the quality of it.

About a year after Emily finished treatment, when she was 5, the trial she’d been enrolled in was stopped early. The data showed that the kids who had received two transplants were relapsing less and had a significantly better chance of survival than the kids who had received one transplant. It worked.

As a result, 300 to 400 kids a year who are diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma receive the protocol of care that Emily helped pioneer 10 years ago.

Despite the dark days of treatment and unpredictable secondary effects from chemo, I would make the same decision again, and send her into the trial. Emily would agree, though she longs for the hair that didn’t grow back well after treatment. We know how much worse the alternative could have been. She might not be alive, picking out a homecoming dress and watching Tik Tok videos for hours a day. She might be a statistic.

[The COVID vaccine trials] serve as a gatekeeper to kids’ health from a nation that doesn’t like to wait.

And now a nation of parents looks toward science to approve a COVID-19 vaccine to keep their kids from being statistics, too. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported 225,978 child COVID-19 cases last week, nearly 26% of the weekly reported cases. It’s the second-highest total of new diagnoses among children over the course of the pandemic.

As desperate as we are for our children to get their COVID-19 vaccines, the trial pharmaceutical companies are running — and the in-depth data analysis the FDA undertakes — exists to protect millions of kids from adverse effects that can’t be predicted. It serves as a gatekeeper to kids’ health from a nation that doesn’t like to wait.

When the FDA approves a vaccine for kids — and they will — let’s acknowledge the kids who, like Emily, answered the call. They’re the unsung heroes in getting a nation back to health.

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By: Amy McHugh

Cognoscenti contributor
Amy McHugh is a high school teacher on Cape Cod where she lives with her husband, two teenage daughters, and two goldendoodles. She’s helped raise over $750,000 for neuroblastoma research at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic.

Source: The COVID Vaccine For Kids Is Almost Here. Let’s Not Forget The Children Who Made This Possible | Cognoscenti


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