Then again, being number one in COVID deaths among the world’s wealthiest nations is nothing about which to celebrate.
The data, however, are irrefutable. We blew it and continue to blow it, and it seems tens of millions of our fellow citizens are apparently delighted that our freedom to choose in America has trumped the welfare of millions of other Americans. The freedom to choose, which has made America the envy of the world in so many respects, provides little about which to celebrate when it comes to our response to COVID.
Nearly one million of our fellow Americans are no longer with us; many lost because not enough of us were willing to pitch in during one of the worst viral contagion attacks in history. An extraordinary vaccine, a remarkably effective weapon against severe illness and death, is available and, to a shocking degree, ignored by millions of Americans. That almost all COVID hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated speaks volumes. It is a sad story.
It is a credit to the Trump Administration that the vaccine was available so quickly. Decades of research into the development of mRNA vaccines paid off when the United States pushed the pedal to the metal and committed nearly $2 billion to finance the production and nationwide delivery of millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine, pending FDA approval. That approval came on December 11, 2020. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech did not accept federal money to develop their vaccine, but Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and others did. All in all, the Trump Administration’s operation Warp Speed committed over $12.5 billion to vaccine makers, a fabulous decision that paid off big time. And, yes, the extraordinary and swift rollout of vaccines by the Biden Administration has also been historic and has, undoubtedly, saved countless lives.
There is, however, an unfortunate reality to an otherwise remarkable story. History will not accord us high marks for pulling together during a national emergency. This has not been our finest hour. We’ve had the tools but not the will to do much better. Among the ten wealthiest nations of the world, we’re number one as the least vaccinated and, concurrently, number one as the most ravaged by COVID. We’ve achieved the unenviable distinction of losing 267 Americans per 100,000 to COVID. Compare that to Canada with less than 100 deaths per 100,000, Australia with about 15 deaths per 100,000, or Japan with slightly under 15 deaths per 100,000.
We rank dead last when measuring the fully vaccinated among the ten wealthiest nations studied. Among the ten most affluent nations, including the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands, we whimper in at less than 65% fully vaccinated. In contrast, all the other wealthy nations have achieved a fully vaccinated rate of at least 70 to 80 percent. When the United States is measured against the rest of the wealthiest countries for booster shots, the picture is even worse. As of January 31, 2022, we had achieved a pathetic 27% boost rate, ranking us in ninth place out of the ten wealthiest countries studied.
It is so sad. A just-completed analysis of data through January 8, 2022, conducted by researchers from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, reveals that unvaccinated people were 3.6 times more likely to contract COVID and 23 times more likely to be hospitalized than people who were fully vaccinated with a booster. The unvaccinated were also twice as likely to get COVID and 5.3 times more likely to be hospitalized than people who were fully vaccinated but not yet boosted.
In the 14 days ending December 11, 2021, before Omicron took over as the dominant strain, COVID case rates were 12.3 times higher among unvaccinated individuals than those vaccinated and boosted. Hospitalization rates among the unvaccinated were 83 times higher. Unvaccinated adults were 23 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID during the Omicron wave than adults who were vaccinated and boosted. And as of January 17 in Orange County, California, 86% of hospitalizations for COVID were among the unvaccinated.
Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, a top-notch, elite non-profit institution that boasts eight Nobel Prize winners and is considered the top academic research institution by the scientific journal Nature, reported that in one study during the last four months of 2021, of 4571 in-patient hospitalizations for COVID only 65 patients were fully vaccinated and boosted. In other words, about 98% were not fully vaccinated and boosted.
With the exception of individuals lucky enough to have a natural immunity to COVID, the unvaccinated, of course, place themselves at greater risk for infection with COVID. As such, they become a major source of COVID proliferation, which means the unvaccinated become a prime source of new COVID mutations, possibly leading to new variants which could escape current tools for antiviral vaccination or treatment.
So, let’s consider for a moment the impact of the unvaccinated on the country’s hospital workers and on our hospitals’ ability to function for COVID and non-COVID patients alike. In the United States, for the week ending February 1, 2022, about 16,000 primarily unvaccinated people per day were being admitted to hospitals infected with COVID.
Last month the California Hospital Association warned that California’s hospital system was in danger of collapse as skyrocketing COVID cases, along with other severely ill patients, as well as sick staff, pushed hospitals past their capabilities. Hospitals expect the number of COVID-positive patients to triple, with the surge in infections and hospitalizations expected to last until the end of February.
Last month, the state health department projected that the surge in California would peak at 40% more COVID hospitalizations than last winter, bringing the daily total number of hospitalized patients to well over 70,000. State projections also indicate 7,000 patients will require ICU hospitalization, which is twice as many as last year.
Nationwide, it is estimated that 20% of our health workforce have called it quits during the pandemic, with hundreds of workers calling out sick because of Omicron. A third of California hospitals have reported “critical staffing shortages.”
There is a sameness to people’s reasons for not getting vaccinated.
Some believe, quite incorrectly, that research on mRNA vaccines is too new and too rushed. mRNA research has been underway for decades. COVID-19 represented an ideal opportunity to deploy an outstanding scientific achievement.
Some are truly afraid of the new mRNA vaccine, and no one should be forced to do anything that frightens them, regardless of how unfounded their fright may be.
Some say they prefer the traditional rather than this new-fangled vaccine. In other words, they would rather have a weakened version of the actual disease-causing virus rather than a much more targeted vaccine that is focused only on that small part of the virus that enables it to attach to and invade a human cell.
Some say, “my body, my decision.” And they are correct, but that doesn’t mean their decision isn’t having a tragic effect on so many of their fellow Americans, especially those who work in hospitals trying to save a largely unvaccinated patient population. It also doesn’t mean they should be welcomed anywhere they choose to go.
Defeating COVID means we all have to pull together. It can be done. We’ve done it before when we’ve faced other crises. Come on, America. We can do better.