The United States is on the brink of a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in which new treatments could greatly reduce deaths among the unvaccinated population.
Or the US could continue to see tens of thousands of deaths each month among the tens of millions of adults who are unvaccinated.
The question now is: If skeptics don’t believe public health when it comes to the efficacy and safety of three US-approved COVID-19 vaccines — which have benefited billions of people around the world — why would they believe what the same establishment is about to do? have to say about antiviral pills from Merck and Pfizer?
The new treatments reduce the risks of hospitalization and appear to completely prevent death in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who take pills five days after developing symptoms. US regulators are so excited about the test results of the Merck pill — which has already been approved in Britain — that they could take the first steps to approve its emergency use as early as November 30. Pfizer announced Tuesday that it would also seek approval for its pill on that basis.
Both drugs suppress the process the coronavirus uses to reproduce itself in the human body, albeit in different ways. Both Merck and Pfizer reported that no patients died during their studies. Merck said those who took the drug — molnupiravir — within five days of showing symptoms of COVID-19 were 50 percent less likely to be hospitalized than those who received placebos. Pfizer said its pill, Paxlovid, reduced the risk of hospitalization by 89 percent among those who took it within three days of showing symptoms. Pfizer’s medicine must be taken at the same time as ritonavir, an antiretroviral medicine used with other medicines to treat people with HIV/AIDS. The pharmaceutical companies reported minimal side effects.
No studies have yet been completed on how the pills work in vaccinated individuals who suffer from breakthrough infections. But Pfizer officials are very optimistic about the first results of a vaccine trial that will be completed next year.
Since the pills lose their effectiveness the longer they’re taken after infection, health experts say it’s more important than ever that home testing kits be as widely available in the US as they are in other affluent countries. But between supply chain problems and what some critics see as bureaucratic drag, the Biden administration has been unable to deliver on promises about easy access to tests at home.
In a normal era, when that day arrived, COVID-19 would have felt really manageable and not much scarier than the flu.
Unfortunately, we are in an anomalous era – an era where the number of deaths from COVID-19 continues to rise.
Despite reports that unvaccinated individuals are at least 11 times more likely to die and 29 times more likely to be hospitalized from the disease than vaccinated individuals, 1 in 5 American adults has refused the injection. The ratio is much higher in the states of Deep South and northern Rocky Mountain, where vaccine resistance is strongest.
And now there is solid new evidence that this skepticism about COVID-19 injections is spreading to other vaccines. An Axios/Ipsos poll found that 68 percent of Democrats said they have received or are very likely to receive a flu shot. But only 44 percent of Republicans offered this answer. A poll by Kaiser Family Foundation came up with a similar result: 65 percent of Democrats said they had or certainly will get the flu shot, compared to just 40 percent of Republicans. CNN reported that polls in 2016 and early 2020 showed negligible differences in opinion about flu shots between those in each party.
Public health seems well on its way to becoming just another front in the ever-growing culture wars. Fox News versus the ‘mainstream media’. “The War Around Christmas.” “Cancel culture.” Crime and police. Immigration. Abortion rights. gun rights. speech rights. Issues related to sex and gender. Climate change. Secularists versus the religious believers. The America of the 1619 Project versus the America of 1776. And now a fierce, binary battle over how to handle a pandemic that has killed nearly 770,000 Americans and lasted more than 20 months.
I always took comfort in the idea that Twitter isn’t the real world — and that moderates were still the most influential people in America. I’m not sure anymore. And while I still reject the idea that the differences between Americans are so profound that an actual civil war is possible, that’s small consolation in the big picture.
We are now in the midst of an era where each side is justifying violence by individuals or groups they believe have the right motives — all while perpetually engaged in what amounts to a constant cold war of ideas, one with no room for nuance. On the left, prominent journalists like Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald are endlessly pilloried for pointing out flaws and logical weaknesses in progressive thinking. On the right, senior officials who dare to express negative views on Donald Trump are insulted and shunned.
And to think that I always liked to report on politics. Now it’s the mutual hate beat.
reed is deputy editor-in-chief of the editorial and opinion section. Column archive: sdut.us/chrisreed. Twitter: @calwhine. Email: [email protected]