“Experts say the public’s disinterest in the latest Covid shots is likely a combination of poor messaging from authorities, a diminishing fear about a virus that three years ago was wholly unknown, and the political polarization of the pandemic itself. But whatever the reasons, that vaccine ambivalence still poses a health threat.
Elderly people and very young infants continue to have a higher chance than the rest of the population that they will be hospitalized with Covid-19. Vaccination rates have fallen off for the former group, who are also most likely to die from an infection, and they were never strong to begin with for the latter”
“The known unknowns for the future, which could spur another round of investment and interest in updated Covid-19 vaccines, are biological. The virus has been evolving and will continue to evolve and could, in theory, reach a point where the current vaccines are ineffectual.
The other question mark is inside of us. The reason many people still enjoy protection from serious illness is because our body’s T-cells are familiar with the virus and can activate when they detect it. They may not be able to stop an infection entirely (that is the role of antibodies, which are quicker to fade) but they can stamp out the virus before a person becomes too sick.
What we don’t know today is how long our T cells’ memory will last, and how durable that immunity really is. The only way to find out is for more time to pass.”
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for “urgent action” to address a tenfold rise over the last decade in cases of congenital syphilis — when the life-threatening infection is passed to an infant during birth. The agency found that the vast majority of the cases, nearly 90 percent, could have been prevented with better access to testing and treatment, a warning sign that vulnerable people are falling through the cracks of the American medical system.”
“Syphilis is treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated in pregnant people, the STD can cause stillbirth, miscarriage and infant death. Infants who don’t receive treatment could also develop blindness, deafness, developmental delays or skeletal abnormalities. In 2022, the infection caused 231 stillbirths and 51 infant deaths.
“It’s particularly difficult to get your head around the increases when we know that this is preventable,” Bachmann said. “If a pregnant person is screened and treated in a timely manner, we really should not have any syphilis in babies.””
“Former President Donald Trump’s administration marshaled unprecedented federal resources to develop and promote a Covid vaccine in record time. But within a few weeks of its arrival, lingering resentment over lockdowns and mistrust of government led to a widespread backlash, particularly among conservatives, that persists almost three years later. Nearly four in 10 Republicans say they will “definitely” or “probably” get the new vaccine, according to polling conducted by Morning Consult and POLITICO, while nearly eight in 10 Democrats expect to seek out the updated shot.
That skepticism is bleeding over into other vaccines, like those that prevent measles, mumps and rubella. Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state’s secretary of health, said it may even take the death of an influential figure to a vaccine-preventable disease to shock the public back to wider acceptance of immunizations.
“I’m really concerned, and a lot of people in public health and health care are very concerned, that this is the beginning of a really rough and tough time,” Shah said. “Unfortunately, people are going to get sick. We’re going to lose lives.”
For decades, being openly skeptical of vaccines made one a pariah in all but the smallest of political circles. Both parties generally accepted that modern science had made essential breakthroughs in health care. To cast doubt on them placed you on the fringe. But public health officials fear those days are increasingly numbered.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who notched 15 percent support in a Harvard-Harris poll of the Democratic presidential primary field earlier this month, is running on his anti-vaccine bona fides. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is campaigning on his work to promote “medical freedom” and has said he would put Kennedy on a task force to investigate government overreach in medicine if elected president. Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur also running for the Republican nomination, has touted his plans to “expose and ultimately gut” the FDA and floated Kennedy as a running mate.
While these candidates are trailing in the polls, their followings are certain to outlast the campaign. Lingering resentment over pandemic restrictions is fueling further skepticism around public health, potentially leading to even lower vaccination rates, wider spread of disease and an inability to address future pandemics.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died in this pandemic because of the bad information about vaccines and treatments,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health and former White House Covid-19 response coordinator under the Biden administration. “I certainly am worried about what happens over the next three to five years.”
The data show the vast majority of Americans still trust science, listen to doctors and vaccinate their children. But the growing number of those who don’t threatens to undo generations of work combatting deadly and debilitating diseases that haven’t widely circulated for decades.”
“A widespread avian flu outbreak devastated the poultry industry in 2022, causing the deaths of more than 43 million hens. December egg inventories were down nearly 30 percent from the year before, just in time for the holiday baking season. Under the basic rules of economics, a persistent drop in supply leading into a time of increased demand is bound to have this result.”
“The wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses had almost no effect at the societal level, according to a rigorous new review of the available research.
“Interestingly, 12 trials in the review, ten in the community and two among healthcare workers, found that wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to influenza-like or COVID-19-like illness transmission,” writes Tom Jefferson, a British epidemiologist and co-author of the Cochrane Library’s new report on masking trials. “Equally, the review found that masks had no effect on laboratory-confirmed influenza or SARS-CoV-2 outcomes. Five other trials showed no difference between one type of mask over another.”
That finding is significant, given how comprehensive Cochrane’s review was. The randomized control trials had hundreds of thousands of participants, and made useful comparisons: people who received masks—and, according to self-reporting, actually wore them—versus people who did not. Other studies that have tried to uncover the efficacy of mask requirements have tended to compare one municipality with another, without taking into account relevant differences between the groups. This was true of an infamous study of masking in Arizona schools conducted at the county level; the findings were cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as reason to keep mask mandates in place.”
“While individual mask wearers might get some benefit for a while if they consistently, perfectly wear masks, this does not comport with the aggregate experience.”
“Infectious disease experts knew this year might be an outlier. Covid-19 has been the biggest disruption to the normal cycle of disease in a century, and we know from prior experience that major pandemics can be followed by a year or two of chaotic viral behavior before settling into a more normal pattern. It happened with both the 1918 flu and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
For RSV and influenza, the past two years have been aberrations; it is reasonable to expect more normal patterns will resume in the future as immunity builds back up. (Still, every cold-and-flu season will be different — variation from season to season is a constant.)
“My guess is that this is entirely temporary and things will settle down into more routine patterns in coming seasons as typical population immunity gets back on track,” said Richard Webby, an infectious disease researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Covid-19 is trickier to project, given its continuing evolution toward more transmissibility. So far, the protection from prior infection and vaccines seems to be effective for most people, at least in preventing them from ending up in the hospital. But it also continues to pose a threat to the unvaccinated, the elderly, and the immunocompromised — and yearly surges when the conditions are more favorable for viral spread (i.e., the winter) are to be expected.”
“after a successful test run at New York’s JFK Airport, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pursuing talks with airlines and port authorities to start collecting samples from long-haul international flights’ wastewater after they land.”
“Some portion of this steep rise in cases is related to the fact that more people are being tested for the flu than in previous years. Over the month of November, about twice as many flu tests were done at clinical labs nationwide as during the same period last year (about 540,000 versus 265,000). More testing means more cases will get picked up.
However, there are corroborating warning signs that this is truly a bad season. Flu hospitalizations have been off the charts and are rising quickly. In a press conference Monday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said there have already been 78,000 flu hospitalizations this season, or nearly 17 out of every 100,000 Americans. That’s “the highest we’ve seen at this time of year in a decade,” she said. In keeping with past trends, the highest hospitalization rates are among adults 65 and older.
What’s making these high hospitalization rates particularly concerning is their overlap with surges in other viruses causing many people to get sick enough to require admission. One of those is RSV, which has been packing pediatric hospitals for more than six weeks. And while Walensky noted there were signals RSV transmission was slowing in parts of the country, Covid-19 hospitalizations recently began to tick upward.”