News from Day 888: Coronavirus Report 23 (Yes again, COVID)

By Lance Chilton

888 days after the official start of the pandemic, The New York Times reported, “President Biden arrived at Air Force One on Monday with a jaunty step, a playful manner and a huge grin. ‘Feeling great,’ he declared. He meant physically, having finally ended his lengthy bout with Covid-19, but he could have been talking about his presidency writ large.”

I’m happy for the country and for President Biden, but we can’t take anything for granted, either about the pandemic or about the election which will come on pandemic day 972. I dodged the pandemic myself until day 874 and then came down with a mild case, thanks to having received the vaccine and boosters, not thanks to lacking risk factors.

Pandemic fatigue has beset practically everyone from the visitors rolling up Route 66 into Albuquerque, to the President, to readers of this article. Mask-wearing is spotty at best. We seem to have passed another peak in the pandemic–there were “only” 179 New Mexicans with COVID in hospitals as of Wednesday, August 10, and “only” nine deaths compared with 572 recorded cases. “Recorded” is an important word in this context: My own case, diagnosed on the basis of a home test, is almost surely not recorded by the Health Department, and the same is probably true for many who test themselves rather than find a PCR tester who “biopsies the brain,” as some describe that swab up the nose.

The percentage of New Mexicans fully vaccinated against COVID has barely budged for weeks. Most of us–79.4% by the Health Department’s count–have had at least two doses of COVID vaccine, and we have better health to show for it. We’re less likely to get sick and much less likely to get very sick or die.

The Albuquerque Journal’s statistics are useful on this but are less stark and persuasive than they might be. The Journal said that 70.8% of those hospitalized and 75.9% of those dying of COVID have been unvaccinated. To make it more meaningful, let’s take 10,000 New Mexicans. Of these, 7,940 will have received the vaccine and 2,160 will have declined, for whatever reason. Of the 179 in hospital on August 10, 70.8% or 127 were not vaccinated and 52 were vaccinated; of the 254 dying of COVID in the past month, 193 were not vaccinated and 61 had received two or more COVID shots. So, doing the math, people who have not received the vaccine are over nine times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID than the vaccinated, and over eleven times more likely to die of the 21st century’s first pandemic disease.

Matters are a little more complicated with respect to children, for whom the vaccine is recommended as early as 6 months of age. Children are much less likely to have severe disease than, say, people my age. As of August 4, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ data show that more than 14 million US children have been infected since the March 11, 2020 date when Governor Luján Grisham declared a public health emergency. In New Mexico, 22% of reported cases have been in children. “Only” 1,376 US COVID deaths in children under 18 have been reported, or fewer than one per 10,000 cases. (It’s more like 120 deaths per 10,000 COVID cases among adults.)

As a pediatrician, I’d point to the marked rises seen in childhood depression and anxiety over the past 2+ years, the worsening headaches that have been documented among children, the loss of important adults in their lives, the family financial challenges and stress at being cooped up, and the effects on education. If we immunize children for COVID, we’ll remove what may eventually be the most important effect of the disease on growing children: the possibility that they will transmit the disease to their elders, and those relatives will be the ones to get very sick or die, conferring long-lasting guilt on the child-vectors.

It’s similar with influenza–to a large degree we immunize children (again over 6 months of age) against flu to save their older relatives from severe influenza. While “only” 40 to 200 children die of influenza in any given year in the US, 12,000 to 50,000 American adults do. Many of those adults were infected by their children or grandchildren bringing the virus home from school. So for everyone’s sake, get yourself immunized against flu and COVID, and get your children and grandchildren immunized against both as well.