June 18 update: According to official estimates, more than 3.8 million people have died of COVID worldwide, out of a total of 178 million official cases, and the death rate seems to be declining as we move down the slope of the third wave (although it should be noted that the real mortality rate and case fatality rate or CFR are not easy to calculate). That’s better than the 50 million people who are estimated to have died of the 1918 flu, but still a huge number. In the US, more than 600,000 people have died — that’s more than died in the Second World War, the Vietnam War and the Korean War put together. It’s also important to note that the research shows as many as 25 percent of people who recover from COVID develop long-term symptoms, including brain changes.
As we head into summer, things are looking up, at least in North America and Europe. New York just announced they are opening up — including dining inside restaurants at full capacity — because infection and hospitalization rates are low and the number of people with at least one vaccination has passed 70 percent. There are still some restrictions (producers of a Broadway show with Bruce Springsteen won’t let anyone who got the Astra-Zeneca vaccine attend a play, for example, because it never got licensed in the US). My wife Becky and I both got our second shot of Pfizer a couple of weeks ago, so according to the research we should be at greater than 90 percent protection against hospitalization and death from COVID, and that apparently includes the so-called Delta variant — previously known as the India variant, because that’s where it is said to have originated.
Because it’s estimated to be about 50 percent more contagious than the previous virus, the Delta version is now the dominant variant in the UK, and it’s rapidly increasing in the US as well — doubling every 12 days or so. The variant also carries a much greater risk of hospitalization, and it also affects children much more often than the earlier versions, both of which are concerning. But on the brighter side, vaccination rates are surging in North America and most of Europe, so that should keep the Delta variant contained more than it would be otherwise. In much of the African continent, however, and in countries that have health-care and/or political challenges, COVID continues to rage, and only a small proportion of the population has been vaccinated even once.
How will that affect global travel as the world starts opening back up? Will countries that have remained safe due to closing their borders quickly, like Australia, be loathe to open up again? Will there be a global vaccine passport? How quickly will there be a rollout of a potential third shot booster for the Delta variant, or new variants that emerge? All questions that remain unanswered. On another bright note, scientists are using the knowledge they have gained about mRNA vaccines to work on shots that might help with dozens of other diseases, including malaria and even cancer.
April 2021 update: It’s been over a year now since COVID became a reality for most of us in North America. We came back from our vacation in Florida on March 17th or so to a changed world, and it has continued to change rapidly ever since. My 85-year-old mother got COVID in December — as did about 120 people in her retirement home — but it was a relatively mild case and she turned out to be fine after a couple of weeks in hospital. Vaccines are being rolled out (with varying degrees of success) in most countries. After a rocky start, President Joe Biden seems to have gotten things moving in the US and more than 100 million people have gotten their first shot of one of the vaccines. In Canada, supply constraints held things back, but they are rolling out now — my wife Becky and I have gotten our first shot of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine because we are caregivers for my mother, and our second shot has been pushed out several months in order to give others the chance to get a first one (Pfizer appears to be about 80 percent effective after one shot).
The US has agreed to give Canada a bunch of Astra-Zeneca doses because it hasn’t been approved in the US yet and they will expire before it does. There have also been a number of countries that have paused or held back on providing A-Z vaccine because of about 20 cases of abnormal clotting, including some deaths — despite the fact that studies show the number of cases (plus or minus 20 out of 17 million) is well below the normal incidence of fatal blood clots. Pfizer and Moderna look to be about 90 percent effective in the real world against contracting a symptomatic case of COVID, and 100 percent effective against hospitalization or death. What remains unknown is how effective the various vaccines are against the new variants, the worst of which seems to be the British one, B117, which is significantly more contagious than the original, and also more lethal, and seems to be infecting more younger people than the previous one.Continue reading