Not since the early 20th Century’s Great Influenza has the world suffered from a biological scourge like COVID-19. The virus continues to rage, claiming lives, territory and infecting more than 66 million people worldwide. It has so far killed more than a 1.5 million people, including more than 275,000 in the United States. It has also killed nearly 4,000 in Colorado. Worse, say medical experts, the country is entering a period where things are growing darker.
A number of states have reached their limits in providing care for new COVID-19 patients. California is recording 15,000 new coronavirus cases a day creating a crippling impact on hospitals and staff, many of whom are working well beyond simple overtime.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham calls the current virus resurgence “the most serious health emergency New Mexico has ever faced.” In Colorado, one in 40 residents has the virus and hospitals are feeling the stress.
But researchers now have three vaccines ready to wage war against the virus. In Great Britain, the Pfizer vaccine was administered to a 90-year-old woman, Margaret Keenan on Tuesday, December 8, making medical history. In America, the FDA is expected to approve a vaccine within days.
“Help is on the way,” announced Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control. “Vaccines are a week or two away.” Redfield said at least 20 million doses of the vaccine will be in stock by the end of December; that number will double within a month; 100 million doses will be on hand by March. States are now creating plans for large scale vaccinations.
But despite 20 million doses the first month and 40 million thirty days later, the supply will still fall well short of demand and well short of President Trump’s promised 300 million doses. The government now plans to stagger deliveries to make certain or as close to certain as it can be, that states do not exhaust supplies. In the meantime, states are proceeding with a cautious pragmatism.
“Our COVID-19 command center teams continue to work in collaboration with CDPHE, CDC and the Governor’s Office on plans for receiving, storing, and a phased distribution of the vaccine to staff and patients over the coming weeks and months,” said Denver Health spokesperson April Valdez Villa. “Patient-facing frontline workers and support staff will receive priority” for the first phase of coronavirus immunizations which should begin shortly after the FDA grants authorization for the vaccine. Denver Health is “strongly encouraging everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.” Shots will be given at no cost.
But nationwide it appears that there is a strong battle being fought between those presenting hard data on the vaccine and anti-vaxxers promoting hearsay and second or third-hand accounts of vaccinations gone wrong, blaming them for everything from autism to paralysis. Joining the latter is a growing crowd of naysayers---as much as 40 percent of the country---who mistrust the government and its rush to create a vaccine. Add to that, a burgeoning Latino and Black hesitation to get immunized based on a documented history of racism in medical research.
“The systemic racism experienced by the Latino community has generated a tremendous amount of distrust, especially with our immigrant community,” said Jim Garcia, CEO of Denver’s Clinica Tepeyac. It’s a history that has resulted, he said, “in a heightened level of fear and anxiety” and steered a lot of Latinos away from medical treatment while instilling a reluctance to get the COVID-19 vaccination. One way to address the trust deficit, said Garcia, might be “to persuade our Latino community that, by getting vaccinated, they are protecting their children, their elders and the community as a whole.” Getting immunized against the coronavirus, he added, might also be a good way to help “get our economy and jobs back to pre-COVID numbers.”
The virus’s footprint in Latino and Black communities has been deep and painful. CDC figures indicate that both groups have been three times as likely to contract COVID-19 as their White colleagues and neighbors. More than 640,000 Latinos and African-Americans have been infected with the virus and are twice as likely to die from it as Whites. A similar disparity exists in Native American populations. Even Asian Americans are 1.3 times as likely as Whites to become infected.
According to a Pew Research poll, nearly two thirds of Americans say they would probably get the shot but do not necessarily want to be among the first to line up for it. Their concern is potential side effects. A schedule for Coloradans to get the first of two shots for the virus is being formulated at Denver Health and other agencies in conjunction with state health and the Governor’s office.
The first shot introduces a small population of the virus into the body so that the immune system can recognize it. The medicine causes the production of antibodies that can fight the virus. A second, or booster shot---given 21 days after the first---produces more antibodies and triggers a supply of memory cells that stay in the body long after exposure. The more memory cells, the more effective the defense in fighting off the virus.
The virus is now approaching its one-year anniversary. La Voz Bilingue first wrote about it last February (http://www.lavozcolorado.com/mdetail.php?id=10719). Few, back then, could imagine how impactful it would become or even what a pandemic even was. The nation has learned.
COVID-19 is now on an accelerated pace. When it first began to mount last winter, it took 96 days to reach a million cases. Last week there were a million new victims In just five days. But despite there being a vaccine, health officials say the next 90 days could be this pandemic’s most epic run. “December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Redfield said, calling them “the most difficult times in the public health history of this nation. ”The stress on our healthcare system will be enormous and deaths could double by spring.