Good News: The Data Is Improving, the Vaccines Are Working, and the Process Is Ramping Up

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Posted: Feb 02, 2021 1:30 PM
Good News: The Data Is Improving, the Vaccines Are Working, and the Process Is Ramping Up

Source: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

As we mentioned yesterday, after an absolutely brutal and heart-wrenching stretch, America's COVID data is dramatically improving. Couple that with the existing vaccine ramp-up, and the likelihood of an additional vaccine (which is also very effective, especially at preventing severe cases of Coronavirus) getting approved in the coming weeks, and there's additional cause for optimism. Now sprinkle in game-changing testing innovations like this, and the sense that we're turning the corner becomes even more immediate and encouraging. 

As I await my turn in the vaccine line, sign me up for this, please:

Federal health officials announced Monday a $230 million deal to expand the use of a non-prescription at-home COVID-19 test to provide about 8.5 million tests a month in the United States. The Australia-based Ellume tests can detect COVID-19 with 90% accuracy and can be used for people with or without symptoms, Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response told reporters. The tests, which the FDA authorized for use in December, send results to users' smartphones within 15 minutes and the swabbing is less invasive than the nasopharyngeal swabs of other COVID-19 tests.

But if you "doomscroll" on social media long enough, you're bound to run across a story that will shatter any hopeful thoughts. Right on cue, this one made me want to scream:

Many experts say they already expect things to get worse before they get better. And that also means an end to the pandemic may be getting further away. “It may take four to five years before we finally see the end of the pandemic and the start of a post-COVID normal,” Singapore’s education minister said last week, according to the Wall Street Journal...A more contagious and more lethal strain of the virus could easily send cases, hospitalizations and deaths soaring right back to record levels, even as vaccinations continue to ramp up. “We are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country,” Osterholm said.

People cannot take another year of this, let alone four or five. Fortunately, this looks like alarmism. One need not dismiss some of the concerns raised in the piece in order to recognize that we are well on our way to stamping out the raging pandemic. Not eliminating it entirely, necessarily, but slowing it so effectively that things will markedly and rapidly improve. Check out the good news emerging from Israel:

Israel's vaccination programme is showing signs of working to drive down infections and illness in the over-60s. The fall appears to be most pronounced in older people and areas furthest ahead in their immunisation efforts. This suggests it is the vaccine, and not just the country's current lockdown, taking effect. Israeli Ministry of Health (MoH) figures show 531 over-60s, out of almost 750,000 fully vaccinated, tested positive for coronavirus (0.07%). And far fewer fell ill, with 38 becoming hospitalised with moderate, severe or critical disease - a tiny proportion.

Israel is absolutely crushing the rest of the world on the pace of vaccinations, so watching those inoculations drive down cases and hospitalizations is quite heartening. The New York Times is also reporting positive news on this front, warning that the public discourse around the issue is unduly negative:

The news about the vaccines continues to be excellent — and the public discussion of it continues to be more negative than the facts warrant. Here’s the key fact: All five vaccines with public results have eliminated Covid-19 deaths. They have also drastically reduced hospitalizations. “They’re all good trial results,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told me. “It’s great news.” Many people are instead focusing on relatively minor differences among the vaccine results and wrongly assuming that those differences mean that some vaccines won’t prevent serious illnesses...we don’t need to eliminate it for life to return to normal. We instead need to downgrade it from a deadly pandemic to a normal virus...

All five of the vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson — look extremely good. Of the roughly 75,000 people who have received one of the five in a research trial, not a single person has died from Covid, and only a few people appear to have been hospitalized. None have remained hospitalized 28 days after receiving a shot. To put that in perspective, it helps to think about what Covid has done so far to a representative group of 75,000 American adults: It has killed roughly 150 of them and sent several hundred more to the hospital. The vaccines reduce those numbers to zero and nearly zero, based on the research trials. Zero isn’t even the most relevant benchmark. A typical U.S. flu season kills between five and 15 out of every 75,000 adults and hospitalizes more than 100 of them.

What about the much-discussed new variants from the UK and South Africa? Scientists say these strains are more contagious and could be deadlier – and that existing vaccines may be less effective against at least one of them. Even in this potentially worrisome realm, the news is good overall. The Times reports, "fortunately, there is no evidence yet that it increases deaths among vaccinated people. Two of the five vaccines — from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax — have reported some results from South Africa, and none of the people there who received a vaccine died of Covid." And because I'm choosing to be upbeat, largely because a lot of data justifies it, I'll leave you with this:

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Other trackers put the number of total doses administered well over 30 million by the end of the weekend.  Again, arrows pointed in the right direction: