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The United States eclipsed the grim milestone of one million COVID-19 deaths last week, the first country to reach the mark, and a new study finds that a large portion of these deaths could have been prevented by the vaccines.
A report led by Brown University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that around 300,000 of the deaths could have been prevented in people had received the vaccine when it was made available, a sobering finding.
The COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December 2020, when the Pfizer and Moderna shots received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Early on, the shots were only made available to select groups – like the elderly, front-line workers, teachers, prisoners – in order to manage limited resources.
By late spring 2021, a majority of states had fully opened up their vaccine eligibility to every single resident aged 16 or older.
With the COVID-19 vaccines being estimated to reduce risk of dying from the virus by 90 percent, a vast majority of people who died from the virus while unvaccinated after the shots became available likely could have saved their lives had they received the shot.
While the U.S. did recently reach the devastating milestone, deaths from the virus are decreasing. Covid deaths have dropped 43 percent over the past week, down to 335 per day in the country. This is despite another surge in cases, increasing 19 percent to 91,960 per day over the last seven days.
‘I think it’s reasonable to say that likely more than 300,000 deaths were preventable,’ Dr David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins told USA Today.
‘Three hundred thousand people is the size of a midsize city. And to think we could have prevented that number of people from dying just by doing a better job of getting a very safe and highly effective vaccine into people is tragic.’
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that someone who is unvaccinated against COVID-19 is ten times as likely to die from the virus – as of the most recently available data from February. At that time, a person that was from there was around three times as likely.
Vaccine uptake in America has been relatively strong. According to most recent CDC data, 78 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with two-thirds of Americans fully vaccinated.
Among adults, who suffer almost all of the risk from the virus, 89 percent have received their first vaccine dose, and 76 percent are fully vaccinated.
The White House now fears that rationing of the booster doses could be needed going forward, though, as the Biden administration battles with congress over funding to continue programs that allow Americans to receive vaccines, therapeutics and Covid tests at cheaper or limited costs.
‘As we get to the fall, we are all going to have a lot more vulnerability to a virus that has a lot more immune escape than even it does today and certainly than it did six months ago,’ Dr Ashish Jha told the AP last week, warning against letting funding for these programs lapse.
‘That leaves a lot of us vulnerable.’
Jha is pushing for lawmakers to approve more funding for the federal government to put towards Covid mitigation measures, a topic that has become contentious in recent weeks as some want to spend the money elsewhere.
Biden had pushed for the funds to be a part of a spending package that included aid to Ukraine, but was forced to pull it out of fear disagreement for that section would halt the entire bill.
Federal officials say the funding will be enough to get America into fall, while also allowing the country to continue ordering Covid vaccines. There has been speculation that if the funding is not approved the U.S. will no longer be able to offer the vaccines to all Americans, only to high risk groups.
Jha fears that every moment the funding is delayed pushes the U.S. down the pecking order on vaccine orders, as other countries put in orders for more vaccines in the future, and will get priority as more jabs are manufactured by leading firms like Pfizer and Moderna.
‘I would say we’re really kind of at that deadline and waiting much longer just puts us further back of the line,’ Jha added.
‘If we’re willing to be in the back of the line and get our vaccines in the spring, we have plenty of time. But then we’ll have missed the entire fall and winter. That’s not an acceptable outcome, I think, for the American people.’
Whether Americans even want more Covid shots is still up for debate, though. Rollout of the COVID-19 boosters was slow when they first became available in fall of 2021, with older Americas not flocking to get the shots in a way the federal government expected.
This comes as officials are warn that more pandemic related threats are forming around the world.
The prevalence of the new BA 2.12.1 Covid strain – the most infectious version of the virus being sequenced by U.S. health officials – is continuing to grow, officials report.
The strain, which was first detected in New York last month, now makes up 48 percent of sequenced Covid cases in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Tuesday. It is an increase from the 43 percent of cases the strain made up the prior week.
This newly detected version of the virus is a sub-lineage of the BA.2 ‘stealth’ variant, which remains the dominant strain as it makes up 51 percent of cases. The new strain is believed to have around a 27 percent growth advantage over its predecessor, and will likely take over as the nation’s dominant strain by the end of the month.
Every single Covid case sequenced by the CDC falls under the umbrella of the Omicron variant, with the Delta variant now having been totally snuffed out by its successor.
The BA.1 strain of the virus, which caused record case outbreaks across the world over the winter, now only makes up 0.3 percent of cases in the U.S., as its sub-variant have almost entirely overtaken it.
Newer versions of Omicron may be on their way to America as well.
There are growing concerns about the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the virus, which are now making ground in South Africa, causing another surge in the nation. The country was also the first to suffer from the original version of Omicron in late November.
This week, both the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control declared them both ‘variants of concern’, acknowledging the dangers they pose to the global population.
A pre-print study out of South Africa also found that the two variants may have the ability to evade immunity to the virus provided by previous infection.
That could be a grave concern for officials, as the massive spread of Omicron during the winter months – giving a vast portion of Americans immunity to the virus in the process – will no longer protect people going forward, opening the door for yet another large surge.