The Biden administration is exploring ways to expand access to promising COVID-19 antivirals that can keep people out of the hospital when the pills become more plentiful in coming months.
About 60 percent of the U.S. population is heading into the winter months with reduced protection against the coronavirus, according to data released this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while health experts warned that those who were vaccinated early in the year are likely to have waning immunity.
Currently, around 6 in 10 Americans are fully vaccinated with over half having received their last shot more than six months ago, the threshold recommended for a Moderna or Pfizer booster. However, combined with the 100 million unvaccinated people, only 40 percent of the Americans are at their strongest immunity level against COVID-19, said the CDC.
As of Saturday morning, 229,291,004 people received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, making up 69.1 percent of the whole U.S. population. Fully vaccinated people stood at 195,920,566, accounting for 59 percent of the total. A total of 33,454,832 people, or 17.1 percent of the fully vaccinated group, received booster shots, according to CDC data.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the seven-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 93,196 nationwide on Friday, with the 14-day change striking a 30 percent rise. COVID-19-related deaths were 1,134 on Friday, with the 14-day change realizing a 6 percent fall.
More shockingly, pregnant women who become infected with the Delta variant are at increased risk of a stillbirth or dying during childbirth. The CDC research expanded on reports from doctors nationwide who have noted an unprecedented rise in pregnant women becoming critically ill with COVID-19, particularly as the highly contagious variant has taken hold.
"We are seeing loads of pregnancy complications from COVID-19 infection," Ellie Ragsdale, director of fetal intervention at UH Cleveland Medical Center, said. Those complications include premature deliveries, abnormally high blood pressure in pregnant women, as well as pregnancy loss.
One of the new studies analyzed the outcomes of more than 1.2 million pregnancies nationwide between March 2020 and September of this year. Stillbirths were rare in the United States before the pandemic, at a rate of 0.59 percent. Those rates remained similar even when the pandemic hit, at 0.64 percent among women who were never diagnosed with COVID-19. But the rate of stillbirths rose to 0.98 percent among expectant mothers infected with the coronavirus, according to the CDC report. And once the Delta variant took hold in July this year, the rates rose exponentially: 2.7 percent of COVID-19-positive pregnancies ended in stillbirth.
UPDATE: Everyone ages 18+ is eligible for a #COVID19 booster.— CDC (@CDCgov) November 19, 2021
If you got an mRNA vaccine, you may get a booster dose 6 months after being fully vaccinated.
If you got a one-dose vaccine, you may get a booster dose 2 months after being fully vaccinated. https://t.co/h0qVLjSlKN pic.twitter.com/thVFQgcTK1
On Wednesday in an interview at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, Bill Gates listed the two key steps that he thought to help conquer COVID-19: continue to vaccinate the rest of the world, and use up-and-coming antiviral drugs to prevent severe disease and death. For Gates, ending the pandemic doesn't mean eradicating COVID-19 completely. Rather, "we'll be able to bring it down to very small numbers by the end of 2022." That target remains realistic, given advancements in vaccines and antiviral drugs. For starters, "the vaccines are very good news," Gates said.
In poor countries, access and demand for vaccines are both low. Access could improve by next year, as supply constraints will be largely solved. Demand, however, could be trickier to encourage, especially in places where the epidemic hasn't been as visible, like sub-Saharan African countries.
As for the antiviral drugs, Gates called them "pretty impressive," despite the fact that none of them have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The drugs, if approved, could drastically lower the number of people hospitalized and severely ill from COVID-19. Antiviral COVID-19 pill makers Merck and Pfizer both submitted data to the FDA for clearance.
Earlier this week, another noticeable vaccination news was that, with less than one month until the U.S. Army's deadline to vaccinate its active-duty force, the service will begin barring soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 without an exemption from reenlistment, promotions, and other "favorable personnel actions."
In a memo dated Nov. 16, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said soldiers who refuse the vaccine would be "flagged," preventing them from "reenlistment, reassignment, promotion, appearance before a semi-centralized promotion board, issuance of awards and decorations" and more. The Navy and the Marine Corps issued similar guidance last month, paving the way for the discharge of service members who refuse to be vaccinated. Soldiers who have received an exemption or whose exemption request is pending will not be flagged.
The U.S. Army's deadline for all active-duty military members to get vaccinated is Dec. 15 while National Guard soldiers are required to be vaccinated by June 30, 2022. Soldiers, including Reserve and Guard, can be flagged even before these deadlines for refusing the vaccine.
The Biden administration is exploring ways to expand access to promising COVID-19 antivirals that can keep people out of the hospital when the pills become more plentiful in coming months. It has purchased enough supplies of an oral drug from Pfizer Inc. to treat 10 million people for free through a US$5.29 billion agreement, should health regulators give it the green light.
The courses purchased by the federal government are expected to be allocated to the states, which would then direct them to locations such as pharmacies, hospitals and nursing homes. Beyond that, the administration is reviewing whether Paxlovid, the antiviral from Pfizer, can be available on the commercial market in retail pharmacies if it gets regulatory clearance. Supply of the antivirals should become more plentiful by April or May.
On Friday, booster shots from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech as well as Moderna Inc. became available to all adults after the CDC endorsed the extra doses for people at least six months after their second shot. The signoff will "lead to a significant widening of the U.S. booster campaign that health officials hope will remove confusion and offer people more protection ahead of holiday gatherings and travel as new daily COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise again," reported the WSJ.
"Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people's protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
"Federal health officials hope a straightforward boosters-for-all policy will prompt millions more people to get the shots before they travel or gather with friends and family over the holidays. Many are concerned about the worsening picture as winter approaches," reported The Washington Post.
#Colombia | A Court postpones ruling on decriminalization of abortion. pic.twitter.com/afl2938MJR— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) November 19, 2021