America

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.

Hundreds of Thousands of U.S. Troops Still Not Fully Vaccinated Despite Looming Deadlines

Depending on the service, U.S. troops have up to a couple of months or as little as just three weeks to get fully vaccinated before they are ordered out, but reports suggest that hundreds of thousands have still only had one dose of a Covid vaccine or no doses at all. RT has the story.

In August, members of the U.S. military services were informed that immunisation against Covid would be required as part of new directives from President Joe Biden. According to data analyzed in a Washington Post report, however, inoculation rates among America’s more than two million soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are lagging in many areas.

Deadlines for individual services vary, but many are facing a situation where only weeks remain to get thousands of personnel to agree to being jabbed. The Marine Corps and Navy are both facing November 28th deadlines, but the former has a 72% vaccination rate, while the latter has a much higher 90% rate. The Air Force, on the other hand, has just three weeks to get approximately 60,000 personnel fully jabbed. 

The rate in the active-duty Army stands at 81%, though it’s the Army Reserve and National Guard that have truly lagged. Those branches, which number over 500,000 people, have vaccination rates of approximately 40%. Those on active-duty are facing a December 15th deadline, but Guard and Reserve members do not have to comply until June 30th. …

Some have questioned the military’s long deadlines, especially for the Guard and Reserve, and whether they will impact readiness. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) called the June deadline “jarring” and said it would leave room for thousands of troops to “not be deployable”. …

Military officials have previously stated that no soldier will be allowed to be on federal orders and to leave their home station without being vaccinated first. 

It remains to be seen how many soldiers will actually defy the vaccine mandate – or what would happen to them if they do – but other industries are already seeing the impact, with hospitals and airlines reportedly facing staffing issues stemming from employees unhappy with vaccine mandates.

Worth reading in full.

60% Of American Parents Haven’t Committed to Their Children Getting Vaccinated against Covid, Survey Suggests

Only 37% of parents in the U.S. with children aged five-11 plan on getting them vaccinated against Covid, according to a new CBS News/YouGov survey, while 35% say they are opposed to their children being ‘jabbed’ and 26% are unsure. MailOnline has the story.

Just 10% of unvaccinated moms and dads will insist upon the vaccine for their children.

The survey, completed Friday, showed 26% of parents are undecided about the jab, meaning more than 60% of adults haven’t committed to having their child vaccinated against a virus that’s killed more than 700,000 Americans.

Parents of children aged five through 11 participated in the survey; Pfizer last week asked the FDA to expand emergency use of its Covid vaccine to children in that age bracket.

The vaccine-reluctant said possible side-effects, distrust of the Government and scientists, and lack of thorough testing were their main concerns.

Interestingly, many parents who’ve themselves had the vaccine say they don’t want their young children to receive it. …  

Government advisors insist vaccines are thoroughly-tested and safe, although they have been linked to serious and potentially deadly heart-inflammation in very rare cases, particularly among young men. 

The survey’s results are consistent with a similar poll completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which showed 34% of American parents plan to vaccinate their schoolchildren as soon as a vaccine for the five-11 age group is authorised.

Worth reading in full.

Biden Administration Plans to Increase Fines on Companies with Unvaccinated Employees

Through a provision attached to the $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” spending bill, the Biden administration is attempting to increase the financial penalty tenfold for companies which continue to employ unvaccinated citizens. Due to previous emergency legislation, Federal law identifies the spread of Covid as a workplace hazard, allowing President Biden to become further unimpeded in his task of fully vaccinating the American workforce if the provision passes both chambers of Congress. MailOnline has the story. 

The increased fines on employers could go as high as $70,000 for serious infractions, and $700,000 for wilful or repeated violations – a sum which can be applied to each instance of a violation rather than a total limit.  

If enacted into law, the fines could rapidly bankrupt companies whose employees are not vaccinated, in effect forcing businesses to comply with Biden’s inoculation drive. 

It comes after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an emergency Covid rule in the Federal Register this summer, which added Covid to a list of possible workplace hazards for healthcare employment.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet announced when the House will vote on the reconciliation bill that includes the new vaccine enforcement mechanism. 

On Thursday September 9th, Biden announced that companies with 100 or more employees must ensure every worker is either fully vaccinated or gets tested at least once a week, or face fines of thousands of dollars.

He also demanded that all workers in healthcare settings that receive Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement – roughly 17 million people – must get vaccinated, and signed an executive order requiring all federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated.

Now, the raise in fines included in the new bill formulates the latest part of the President’s drive to get 100 million employees across the federal government and private sector vaccinated. 

Any business that violates the rule can already face substantial fines of up to $14,000 per incident, but the legislation that has been included in the new $3.5 trillion bill could raise the fines for non-compliance 10 times higher, with a limit of up to $700,000 for each “wilful” or “repeated” violation according to Forbes. 

Worth reading in full.

Pfizer Will Ask U.S. FDA for Approval of Its Vaccines in 5-11 Year-Olds “In Days”

We’ve not yet finished debating the vaccination of 12-15 year-olds. But Pfizer’s CEO, who hinted at “annual re-vaccinations” against Covid over the weekend, is already looking to go one step further by asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “in days” to authorise the use of its vaccine in even younger children. MailOnline has the story.

On Sunday, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Albert Bourla was asked when the country should expect the shots to be approved in kids between ages five and 11.

The New York-based firm, along with its German partner BioNTech, recently released data that it said showed the vaccine was safe and effective in a [sic] smaller doses in elementary schoolers.

“I think we are going to submit this data pretty soon,” Bourla told host George Stephanopoulos.

“It’s a question of days, not weeks, and then it is up to FDA to be able to review the data and come to their conclusions and approve it or not.”

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

A total of 4,500 younger kids from ages six months to 11 years were enrolled at nearly 100 clinical trial sites in 26 U.S. states, Finland, Poland and Spain

About half of the ages five-to-11 group were given two doses 21 days apart and the other half were given placebo shots.

The team then tested the safety, tolerability and immune response generated by the vaccine by measuring antibody levels in the young subjects.

Pfizer said it had selected lower doses for Covid vaccine trials in children than are given to teenagers and adults. …

Bourla assured that Pfizer would be ready to ship these smaller doses across the country if the FDA authorises the shot in younger children. …

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 neutralizing 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.

Worth reading in full.