America

Record Hospitalisations in Highly Vaccinated U.S. States as Omicron Surge Peaks

The Omicron surge in America, which has accelerated at an incredible rate, appears to be peaking, according to analysis by J.P. Morgan.

In a report published on Tuesday, the investment banking company notes that the U.S. peak has not come any later than in the U.K., despite the lower vaccination rate.

The Omicron wave in the U.S. also looks to be peaking, despite a significantly worse vaccination profile. The overall level of fully vaccinated individuals in the US, at 62% of the total population, is lower than in the U.K., where 70% of the total population have been fully vaccinated, but the difference is not huge. More striking is the difference in the share of the population who have received a booster shot, 24% of the total population in the U.S. compared with 54% in the U.K. Given the importance of boosters in lifting protection, after the protection from the primary doses fades over time, it might have been expected that the Omicron infection upswing would last longer in the U.S. than in the U.K.. But this does not seem to be the case. It looks like the effective reproduction number in the U.S. returned to 1.0 on January 16th, only 31 days after the Omicron variant first pushed it above 1.0 in mid-December

Reported infections vary considerably by state, with some on their way down while others have yet to peak (note in the below that while all the charts show reported infections per 100,000, the scale for each state is different).

U.S. Journalist Files Lawsuit to Fight Back Against Twitter’s Censorship of Vaccine-Sceptic Content

In August, American journalist Alex Berenson (pictured) was permanently banned from Twitter after penning a post declaring that the Covid vaccine “doesn’t stop infection or transmission”. In response to his removal from the social media site, Berenson has filed a federal lawsuit against the company, claiming that its decision to kick him off the platform earlier in the year violated his first amendment right, with his attorneys arguing that Twitter was adhering to the demands of the Federal Government to silence vaccine-sceptic content. The Mail has the story.

The lawsuit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for Northern California seeks Berenson’s reinstatement to Twitter and unspecified monetary damages over his permanent ban in August.

A spokesperson for San Francisco-based Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Mail.

Berenson, a former New York Times reporter and prominent sceptic of many pandemic policies, was banned from Twitter over a tweet in which he stated that Covid vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission of the virus.

“Berenson’s claim that the Covid vaccines do not ‘stop infection’ or ‘transmission’ of Covid was true at the time and is true now,” his attorneys said in the complaint.

“It is undisputed that vaccinated persons can contract and spread Covid,” the lawsuit adds, noting that Dr. Anthony Fauci himself has stated in published interviews that vaccinated people can be infected.

However, the crux of the lawsuit does not rest on whether Berenson’s criticism of vaccines was objectively true or not. 

The detailed 70-page complaint alleges that Twitter is legally a ‘common carrier,’ similar to a railroad or a telegram, which is required under California and federal law to provide service to all comers.

“Twitter’s role in public debate in the 21st century resembles that of the telegraph in the 19th,” the lawsuit argues. 

Berenson’s attorneys also argue that he has “a uniquely viable claim that Twitter acted on behalf of the Federal Government in censoring and barring him from to its platform”.

The complaint argues that his Twitter ban came just days after high officials including President Joe Biden called for a crackdown on pandemic misinformation on social media, and that the company was responding to Government pressure in banning him.

The suit claims violation of the First Amendment, false advertising, and violation of California common carrier law, among other complaints.

Since his ban from Twitter, Berenson has been publishing his opinion and reporting on the platform Substack, and has released a book titled Pandemia, which reached the bestsellers list.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Restrictions Have Accelerated America’s Youth Mental Health Crisis, Says Surgeon General

The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has said that an already existing youth mental health crisis has been amplified over the course of the pandemic. Targeting lockdown restrictions directly, Murphy referred to the “devastating” impact which school closures and a lack of socialisation have had on the mental well-being of America’s children and young adults. The Mail has more.

While youth mental health had been a growing concern before the pandemic with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, Covid has exacerbated this trend into a crisis, Murthy said.

For example, during the pandemic, the number of children and teenagers reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety doubled, according to one study of 80,000 youth around the world.

Children from minority communities and those at socioeconomic disadvantages, as well as those who lost a parent or caregiver to Covid, are at higher risk for Covid-related mental health conditions, the Surgeon General’s report found.

The Surgeon General’s advisory provides recommendations for improving mental health through increasing mental health care access, addressing economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health, and more.

In the decade prior to Covid, youth mental health has become a growing concern for doctors and public health experts, and the pandemic exacerbated this concern.

A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office (released Tuesday) provides statistics on youth mental health, as well as recommendations for how to address this challenge.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a statement about the report.

“Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide, and rates have increased over the past decade.”

For young people, mental health conditions may be caused by both biological factors and environmental factors.

These environmental factors can include relationships with family members, relationships with peers, neighbourhood safety, and social and economic inequalities, according to the Surgeon General’s report.

Prior to Covid, up to one in five children between the ages of three and 17 years-old had a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioural disorder.

This number has increased sharply over the last 10 years, according to the report.

From 2009 to 2019, the share of high school students who reported feeling sad or hopeless increased by 40%, to more than one in three students.

The share of high school students seriously considering a suicide attempt increased by 36 percent, while the share creating a suicide plan increased by 44%.

The Covid pandemic has added further hardship and stressful experiences for America’s young people.

“The Covid pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating,” Murthy said.

Covid caused schools to close across the country, disrupting opportunities for learning and socializing with peers.

In addition, many children who relied upon school for access to healthcare and social services had those services disrupted.

Numerous children also faced housing and food insecurity as their parents and caregivers went through job loss due to the pandemic.

Worth reading in full.

American Schools Forcing Students to Eat Outside in the Cold Due to Fear of Covid

In New York state, primary school children have been forced to eat their lunch outside despite plummeting temperatures, while students in California are following the same protocol and have endured rainy weather. School districts that are introducing these rules are doing so to help prevent the spread of Covid on the premises. The Mail has the story.

Elementary schools from New York to California are forcing students to eat outdoors in an effort to protect them from Covid, despite plummeting temperatures in the Empire State and rainy weather on the west coast.

And now, parents are lashing out against the school districts that are imposing those social distancing rules.

In New York City, elementary school students were forced to eat their lunches in cold weather on Wednesday.

“It’s getting a little ridiculous at this point,” a mum at MS 104 in Manhattan told the New York Post.

“They’ve eaten outdoors every day this week. It’s cold.”

In Brooklyn, another mum of a student at a Park Slope elementary school said her child began complaining about eating in the ever-dropping temperatures, having done so since the beginning of the school year back in late August.

“We’ve heard no plans to bring them inside anytime soon,” she told the New York Post.

“In fact, they are still asking for parents to give the school their Fresh Direct bags to create seating pads. It doesn’t sound like they’re going in.”

In New York, the Department of Education has allowed principals to come up with their own lunch plans for this school year.

While not every school in the city is forcing students to eat outdoors, every school’s lunch plan must comply with social distancing rules, meaning more students are taking their meals outside.

Kids in balmier California are also being made to eat outside. And while there’s less chance of freezing weather, those youngsters must contend with soggy lunches as they’ll be forced to eat outside if it rains. 

“My kid has his rain gear, he has his rain jacket,” said Tristan Leong, a parent of two kids in the Davis, California school district.

“Everyone kinda scratched their heads and said wait a minute, there’s no cover for them,” Leong said, according to ABC10.  

Leong brought the issue up to school board members Thursday night after receiving an email last Monday from his child’s principal, saying that students must eat outside due to Covid restrictions, while adding that they should have rain coats, warm jackets and even a change of clothes too when going to school. 

“It’s totally just common sense, it shouldn’t be political at all, this is not a right or left issue, this is just let kids eat lunch normally,” Leong said. 

The Davis Joint Unified School District refused to comment on the matter on camera, according to ABC10, however the news outlet did receiving a statement that was sent out to families district-wide.

“In consultation with the Yolo County Public Health Officer, Dr. Sisson, we believe the health risk to students is greater eating indoors unmasked than eating outdoors in inclement weather, under a covered area for a short period of time.”

Worth reading in full.

Will the U.K. Face a Winter Covid Surge?

I’m slightly surprised to be writing this post as to my mind the answer is obvious – of course the U.K. will face a winter Covid surge. It’s winter. That’s what happens in winter; the dominant respiratory virus surges and, most years, taxes the capacity of the health service. The only question is how big it will be – unusually large like 2020-21, or unusually small like 2019-2020 before Covid hit? It’s worth remembering that more people died in England and Wales per head of population in 2008 (once adjusted for age etc.) and every year prior to it than died in 2020 or 2021, many of them succumbing during the winter flu season, as the chart below from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries shows. In other words, there’s a winter surge in deaths-by-virus every year, and I see no reason why 2021-22 will be any different.

Standardised mortality rates (SMRs) in England and Wales

As I see it, the only realistic way there would not be a Covid surge on some scale is if another influenza-like virus takes over, which seems unlikely right now as flu is almost nowhere to be seen.

Nonetheless, I am writing this post, and that’s because some people seem to think that this year it’s not going to happen. Dr Sebastian Rushworth argues that places hit hard already, such as Sweden, New York and Lombardy, have developed enough immunity to avoid “another big wave” altogether. Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph maintains that owing to “infection saturation” and vaccine third doses, “for us, the Covid crisis is over”. Even the usual doom-mongers at SAGE are predicting a decline in hospitalisations and deaths in December, according to new modelling released on Friday. A decline in flu-like hospitalisations and deaths in December? Whoever heard of such a thing?

I freely admit that the winter surge may, because of acquired immunity, be relatively small in places like the U.K. which have already faced widespread exposure. Perhaps that’s all that Sebastian Rushworth and Andrew Lilico mean, and in which case our positions are not so far apart. But will it really be a non-event, as SAGE at least appears to be implying, so that Covid deaths decline during the winter and don’t put any further pressure on the health service?

10 U.S. States Sue the Federal Government to Block Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers

10 Republican-led U.S. states have challenged the power of the Federal Government to impose a vaccine mandate on the nation’s healthcare workers, with the lawsuit arguing that the policy would put even more pressure on an already understaffed service, particularly in rural areas. Republican-led states have also attempted to block a federal mandate decreeing that all businesses which hire more than 100 staff must ensure that their employees receive the vaccine or face hefty fines. The Guardian has the story.

All of the mandates are scheduled to take effect on January 4th.

The Biden administration contends that the federal rules supersede state policies prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic, which has killed more than 755,000 people in the U.S. But the New Orleans-based fifth circuit court of appeals already has temporarily blocked the business vaccine rule, saying it raises “grave statutory and constitutional issues”.

A separate rule issued last week by the federal Centres for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires Covid vaccinations for more than 17 million workers in about 76,000 healthcare facilities and home healthcare providers that get funding from Government health programs.

The new lawsuit contends that the CMS vaccine requirement is unprecedented and unreasonably broad, affecting even volunteers and staff who don’t typically work with patients.

“The mandate is a blatant attempt to federalize public health issues involving vaccination that belong within the States’ police power”, said the suit filed by Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate.

Joining the lawsuit were the attorney generals of Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. All are Republicans except for Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa, whose state is led by Republican governor Kim Reynolds.

A CMS spokesperson declined to comment about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit points to concerns from rural hospital administrators in Missouri and Nebraska. For example, it says that Great Plains Health in North Platte, Nebraska, is able to staff only about 70 of its 116 beds because of workforce shortages and has received notice from a majority of personnel in its behavioural health unit that they would resign rather than be vaccinated.

Worth reading in full.

More Than Half of Unvaccinated Americans Declare That Nothing Will Change Their Mind

In a poll conducted in the spring of this year, researchers uncovered that just over 53% of unvaccinated Americans answered that “nothing will change my mind” regarding their decision not to receive the jab. Although the survey was conducted before the announcement and implementation of mandatory vaccination measures, 20% of the U.S. adult population remain unvaccinated. The Mail has the story.

Researchers in Boston, New York and Barcelona surveyed about 6,000 adults, including participants from across the country – roughly 21% of whom said they did not want to receive the Covid vaccine. 

More than half of those respondents said “nothing will change my mind” about the vaccine while 13% said that advice from a family member or close friend might help convince them.

9% said that a recommendation from a family doctor would be beneficial.

Conservatives, people living in poverty, and those who worked outside the home were more likely to be against vaccination, the survey data showed.

The survey was conducted in April 2021, before the Delta variant surge in the U.S., vaccine incentive programs, mandates, and other initiatives. Still, about 20% of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated.

More than 220 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine as of November 3rd, representing about two-thirds of the population.

About four in five adults have received at least one dose, as well as almost all seniors at 98%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Younger children – ages five to 11 years old – are now eligible to get vaccinated with Pfizer shots as of this week.

At the same time, more than 20 million Americans have received a booster dose.

While attention is now on boosters and children, the millions of adults who remain unvaccinated are still vulnerable to Covid.

Newly released survey data shed light on the motivations and demographics of those Americans who are opposed to Covid vaccination.

Worth reading in full.

40% Of Workers in Agency Responsible for Screening U.S. Air Travellers Unvaccinated despite Looming Mandate Deadline

It’s not just the U.S. army that appears to be struggling to persuade troops to get fully vaccinated before vaccine mandates get them ordered out. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is responsible for screening air travellers, says 40% of its workers have yet to be inoculated. The Independent has the story.

“We have about 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said on Wednesday while speaking to CNN.

Because vaccines are only considered effective two weeks after a person receives their final dose, the deadline for being fully vaccinated with Moderna’s mRNA vaccine – which requires a four-week interval between shots – by Mr. Biden’s November 22nd deadline has already passed, and a similar deadline for use of Pfizer’s vaccine is fast approaching on October 18th. …

Not having enough workers available to screen airline passengers could severely hobble U.S. air travel, especially since the November 22nd final deadline would put unvaccinated screeners out of work just days before Thanksgiving, usually the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S.

“We are building contingency plans, for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that,” Pekoske said.

Worth reading in full.

Biden Administration Telling U.S. States to Prepare to Vaccinate Children as Young as Five against Covid Next Month

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet decided whether to authorise the emergency use of the Pfizer Covid vaccine in children aged five-11, but reports suggest the Biden Government is already quietly telling states to prepare to begin jab roll-outs for this age group as early as next month. MailOnline has the story.

Recently, Pfizer submitted an application [to] the FDA to expand emergency use of its Covid vaccine to include kids between ages five and 11. 

An unnamed White House official told NBC News that the Federal Government has been telling state governors that it anticipates the authorisation will come in the next few weeks, as soon as early November. 

What’s more, an official in the Department of Health and Human Services told the news outlet that [the] Biden administration has already purchased 65 million pediatric doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.

That’s more than the two doses needed to fully vaccinate the 29 million children in the U.S. who would now become eligible.

According to clinicaltrials.gov, Pfizer’s study in younger children worked similarly to the way it did in older children and adults. …

[But] unlike the larger clinical trial conducted in adults, the pediatric trial did not measure efficacy by comparing the number of Covid cases among the vaccine group to the number in the placebo group.

Instead, scientists looked at levels of neutralising antibodies in young vaccine recipients and compared the levels to those seen in adults.

The companies expect data on how well the vaccine works in children between ages two and five and between six months and two years of age by the end of the year. …

Because of this low risk of severe illness, polls have shown that many parents are not inclined to vaccinate their children.

A July 2021 survey, conducted by CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine last month, found that 39% of parents said their children [had] already gotten a coronavirus shot.

However, 40% of parents also said it was “unlikely” that their children would be getting vaccinated.

Worth reading in full.

Judge Bans New York State from Sacking Health Care Workers Who Refuse to Get Jabbed on Religious Grounds

Following reports that aborted fetal tissue is being used to develop Covid vaccines, a U.S. judge has granted a preliminary injunction allowing health care workers in New York to avoid ‘no jab, no job’ rules on religious grounds. The state’s Govenor says she will “fight this decision” to “keep New Yorkers safe”. MailOnline has the story.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd made the ruling on Tuesday after 17 Catholic and Baptist health care workers sued the state last month, saying they objected to being forced to take a vaccine that used “fetal cell lines” from “procured abortions”.

The order prohibits the New York State Department of Health from interfering with religious exemptions or taking disciplinary action against workers who have sought or obtained them.

Govenor Kathy Hochul, responding to the order, said she backs the vaccine mandate, whose original deadline was September 27th, with the state’s 450,000 medical and care staff expected to have received at least one vaccine dose by that date.

“My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe,” she wrote in a statement.

According to the injunction, which was obtained by CNN, the state health department is “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from Covid vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted”.

The organisation is also prohibited from taking any action on licenses, certifications, residency or other professional status for workers who seek or have obtained religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

Christopher Ferrara, the lead counsel for plaintiffs in the case applauded the judge’s ruling.

“With this decision the court rightly recognised that yesterday’s ‘front line heroes’ in dealing with Covid cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy,” he said in a statement obtained by the news outlet.

Worth reading in full.