New Year…Same Virus

The year 2020 ended with December being the deadliest month, 77,572 lives lost, from the COVID-19 disease. More people died in December than in October and November combined. The known US death toll from COVID-19 has reached 354 million, with one American dying every 33 seconds, currently. Hospitalizations reached a record 128,210 in our country on January 4th, with many ICU’s capacity being overwhelmed. Even when facilities expand treatment areas to hospital gift shops, hallways, and conference rooms, the ability to stretch weary healthcare providers does reach a limit. Field hospitals have been reopened in California, Texas, and other areas. Officials in Los Angeles are requesting that the USN Mercy hospital ship be redeployed to their area. Worse news is that these numbers are likely to get worse over the next 3-4 weeks because of holiday family gatherings and travelers disregarding the CDC advice to holiday with those with whom you live. A pandemic record of 1.3 million airport travelers were screened on Sunday, January 3rd, culminating Christmas and New Year air travel of just over 7 million passengers. The healthy and young may not get sick but the people to whom they bring this virus are more likely to become unwitting victims.

On the news front, a viral mutation has increased the spread of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom (UK). The government decided yesterday to implement a restrictive lockdown until mid-February. This mutation of the original virus has been identified in four states in the USA. Though not more deadly, this new strain seems to spread more easily and affects more people under the age of 55. Information available so far indicates that the currently available vaccines, and those in the pipeline, will still be effective against this new variant of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. The presence of this mutation magnifies the need to decrease the spread of the virus by every means possible, including an effective vaccination program. Lastly in the news, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK. It has the advantages of being less costly and storage requires only a regular refrigerator, as compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available in the USA.

These numbers regarding infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and mutations make the slow rollout of the vaccine in the US even more alarming. The current federal administration projected that there would be 20 million Americans vaccinated by New Year’s Day 2021. That date passed with roughly 15 million vaccine doses having been distributed and only 4.5 million Americans vaccinated. We have vaccinated 1.4% of our population compared to Israel having vaccinated about 14% of its people. Indeed, it is a monumental task to rollout an effective and efficient vaccination program particularly considering subzero storage requirements, holidays, and vaccine hesitancy. Yet ALL of these barriers were known and clearly predictable while the daunted Warp Speed was successfully overseeing the development and production of the vaccines. The White House decision to leave the “last mile” (i.e., shots in arms) as the responsibility of resource-strapped states is doomed to the same insufficient result that we have experienced from Washington abdicating responsibility for PPE, testing, and contact tracing. The federal government had enough time to provide a plan and resources so that states could use current large facilities and train personnel for vaccine administration. The current military and retired medical and military personnel (adequately vaccinated and PPE protected) could be used to help staff the program. This would free up more frontline current providers to take care of the current ill. The Defense Production Act still needs to be fully implemented to address supply chain issues.

Ohio has vaccinated 1.36% of our population, so there is clearly much work to be done. The Ohio vaccination plan is outlined at:

It is said that vaccines don’t save lives, VACCINATIONS do. Government has failed us thus far and lives will continue to be lost unless this changes. In the meantime, we as citizens must be consistent, patient, and tireless. WEAR masks, WASH hands, WATCH your distances from people with whom you do not live, and WAIT for your vaccination turn and please take full advantage of the opportunity!

Clyde E. Henderson, MD

Cincinnati Medical Association