There is no reason to consult a history book to imagine how the country felt when it was in the throes of The Great Influenza, the 1918 pandemic that killed 675,000 Americans. After all, we’re still dealing our own pandemic in COVID-19. The latest casualty figure from this 21st Century virus is inching toward 610,000 U.S. deaths. But unlike last century’s scourge, there are now proven vaccines to protect against it.
Three vaccines---Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson---have already proved effective against the virus and saved countless lives. But the combination of politics and ignorance have stopped millions of Americans from getting inoculated. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 14 percent of Americans oppose any vaccination. But 60 percent of this population is White and resides in red or Republican majority states. Twelve percent of Hispanics also say they won’t get vaccinated.
Outlandish and hyperbolic claims by non-physician politicians opposing the vaccines include Colorado Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and North Carolina freshman Republican Madison Cauthorn. The pair regularly offer baseless pronouncements that only serve to reenforce the already disproved bad information on the vaccines. Boebert has fallaciously warned, “(President) Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis,” to get people vaccinated. One-upping Boebert, Cauthorn has cautioned that a door-to-door vaccine program could result in the government ‘taking away guns and Bibles.’ These claims are false but neither, along with many others opposing vaccinations, have been challenged by right-wing news outlets, including Fox News.
The disinformation campaign accompanying the vaccines could not come at a worse or more delicate time in this war on the virus. A variation of COVID-19 has mutated and begun its migration across the country and the world. The Centers for Disease Control warns that the Delta Variant strain---which originated in India---is four times as contagious as its predecessor and can be transmitted within 5-10 seconds of contact. It now accounts for 80 percent of new infections and is already overwhelming some U.S. hospitals. Doctors are urging the unvaccinated to reconsider their reluctance and get the shots.
America’s leading voice in this viral war, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is clear in his concern that the new variant poses great risk, calling it “the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.” In Great Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson concurred, and a number of European countries and Hong Kong have set in place new travel restrictions.” To date, the mutation has gained a foothold in 89 countries.
“Clearly, Delta possess(es) the largest threat to unvaccinated persons,” said Dr. David Wyles, Director of Infectious Disease at Denver Health and Hospitals. It is also, according to the CDC, the dominant virus across the U.S. and is particularly impactful in the South and Midwest where vaccine rates have stalled.
In Missouri, infections are rising as much as 22 percent each week. Health officials are pleading for the unvaccinated to schedule a shot. In Springfield, the state capitol, ventilators are being imported from around the state and country.
Oddly, in Alabama, another state where the Delta Variant is also having a growing impact, there is a mixed message coming from the governor, Kay Ivey. While encouraging vaccinations, she adds, “The state of emergency and health orders have expired. We are moving forward.”
In Colorado, the Delta Variant has dropped anchor in more than half of all counties, including Front Range population centers. Jefferson County’s recorded a jump from two cases to seventeen in just a single week. Health officials say the best offense against the new strain is vaccination. And, they say, getting a shot has been made as user friendly as possible.
“A patient can be scheduled same day or later for a vaccination,” said DHA’s Dr. Wyles. “You can schedule ahead of time,” at www.DenverHealth.org/Covid/Vaccine, call 303.436-7000 “or simply stop by.” Walk-up appointments, he said, may require a bit more time, and it’s suggested that anyone wanting a shot “should plan for a minimum of 20 minutes to ensure time for the 15 minute observation period.” There are also multiple locations throughout Denver for both scheduled and walk-in vaccinations, said Dr. Wyles. There are even drive-in options.
Because the state has returned to pre-pandemic routines---though certain stores or businesses still require masks---it is easy to fall into complacency and believe that the virus that changed our lives has gone away. When the seasons change and people are spending more time inside, the risk for contracting COVID-19 or one of its variants rises and that could change the game. “Other coronaviruses tend to be seasonal,” said Dr. Wyles. “We know SARS-CoV-2 transmission is much more effective indoors. “
In countries where vaccinations rates were almost non-existent as well as others where vaccine rates are high, the variant is gaining strength. India, where the Delta Variant was first identified, is one of southwest Asia’s hotspots. The virus has also jumped the border into Bangladesh where, at the end of June, nearly a million infections had been recorded along with more than 15,000 related deaths. The country’s military has been deployed to maintain the order to remain inside.
In Israel where vaccination numbers were among the best in the world, the Delta Variant has been detected in people who had already received vaccinations. The Wall Street Journal reported that half of all new cases in adults were people who had already been inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine. Pfizer has also announced that it is developing a vaccine booster shot.
While there was little to no public outcry about health risks connected to previous generation vaccines---the 1950’s polio vaccine perhaps the best example---things have changed. Bad or wrong information on vaccines being the cause of unexpected and even permanent health conditions has spread in pockets around the country. Empirical medical research and data refute these unsubstantiated claims, said Dr. Wyles. There is, he said, “Minimal to no risk if we are speaking about a vaccinated general population.”
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