The good news and the bad news in the fight against COVID

The good news and the bad news in the fight against COVID
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Capt. Stacey Johnson, critical care nurse from Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force-627, provides positioning aids to a COVID-19 patient, July 10, 2020 at Baptist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Driven by a three-phase emergency response plan, the Army has contributed in every facet of the ongoing battle against COVID-19, the service's top medical officer said July 29.

Recent headlines surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have offered both good news and bad news. The good news: millions of people around the world have been vaccinated. The bad news: COVID-19 variants that have emerged in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil are, according to medical experts, even more aggressive and contagious than "regular" COVID-19. Journalist David Wallace-Wells examines the combination of good news and bad news in an article published by The New Yorker this week and poses the troubling question, "What if it never really ends, just recedes?"

Wallace-Wells explains, "There are, at the moment, a number of encouraging signs about the near-term course of things. Caseloads and hospitalizations are falling dramatically, perhaps as a sign of seasonal effects turning a corner. Vaccine deployment, while still suboptimal, is improved from a month ago. There has been good news about additional vaccines, with AstraZeneca — already approved in the U.K. but facing an FDA roadblock here — reporting fantastic results against severe disease. And vaccine shipments are said to (be) on the way, with Novavax promising 100 million American doses by the spring."

The journalist, however, goes on to note some of the things to be concerned about.

"Thanks to a combination of higher herd-immunity estimates, stubbornly high vaccine 'hesitancy,' and the arrival of new coronavirus variants that render existing vaccines less effective, the second year of the American pandemic is beginning to look less like a page-turning, book-slammed-shut bang and more like a long and indefinite whimpering into the future — in which many are protected but the disease, undefeated, still circulates, perhaps forever," Wallace-Wells observes. "That the coronavirus would become endemic, like the common cold, has always been one possible outcome, though less appealing than true elimination. The arrival of new variants has made that kind of near-term future, with enduring reservoirs of virus throughout the country, seem less appealing still."

Medical experts are wondering how effective the vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and others will be against the aggressive new COVID-19 variants.

According to Wallace-Wells, "The variants…. seem already to be reducing the efficacy of our existing batch of vaccines — with presumably more variants to come."

A question on the minds of millions of people all around the world is, "When will things get back to normal?" But even accomplished medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci cannot say for certain.

"What has long been the dream of most Americans enduring the pandemic — a point at which 'all of this is over,' with COVID-19 as much a historical artifact for us as, say, SARS is in East Asia — may never come to pass precisely as imagined," Wallace-Wells laments. "Instead, in the medium term and perhaps even the long term, a likelier endgame is one in which large portions of the population are protected, from at least severe disease produced by at least some variants, but, with immunity falling short of the herd threshold, the disease continues to circulate — infecting even some of those who've been vaccinated, threatening the lives of those who haven't, and continuing to evolve, perhaps in some scary ways."

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