Personal Health

WaPo analysis dismantles Rand Paul claim that masks don’t protect against COVID

For months now, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has insisted that face coverings do not protect against COVID-19. However, a new analysis published by The Washington Post has dismantled the senator's false claim.

The latest pushback against Paul's theory follows his remarks during a recent Fox News interview. During that appearance on Monday, November 29, the Republican senator cited the findings of a peer-reviewed study in Denmark that suggests mask-wearing "didn't work."

“When you talk about the peer-reviewed studies of masks, there was one done in Denmark, showed that it didn’t work. When you look at all of Sweden — 1.8 million children have not been wearing masks for the last two years, they’ve had zero COVID deaths. And you say, ‘Well, have the teachers been infected?’ Well, it turns out the teachers are infected at the same rate as the rest of the public. So, they’ve had no masks for a year, year and a half. And it has worked. And that’s a whole country.”

The Washington Post's Salvador Rizzo points out that Paul's reference to “peer-reviewed studies of masks” is actually based on one, isolated study and even with that, the senator has misconstrued some of the findings. Across various “peer-reviewed studies," masks are considered effective in mitigating the spread of the virus.

Rizzo noted that the study in Denmark, which consisted of 6,024 participants, was conducted closer to the onset of the pandemic during a time when most regions were under COVID lockdowns. At that time, the Annals of Internal Medicine study found that the group of participants wearing face coverings were "less likely to catch the virus than the unmasked group."

However, the study did not provide enough evidence to reach the conclusion Paul suggested. Despite the Kentucky senator's claims, the study actually did indicate that masks "could reduce coronavirus cases by up to 46 percent in circumstances like Denmark’s — or increase infections by up to 23 percent."

“Our results suggest that the recommendation to wear a surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in mask wearers in a setting where social distancing and other public health measures were in effect, mask recommendations were not among those measures, and community use of masks was uncommon,” the researchers wrote. “Yet, the findings were inconclusive and cannot definitively exclude a 46% reduction to a 23% increase in infection of mask wearers in such a setting. It is important to emphasize that this trial did not address the effects of masks as source control or as protection in settings where social distancing and other public health measures are not in effect.”

Some Texas faith leaders are working to combat the stigma religion often places on people seeking abortions

By Bekah McNeel, The Texas Tribune

Nov. 24, 2021

"For whom the vows apply: Some Texas faith leaders work to combat the stigma religion often places on people seeking abortions" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Rev. Erika Forbes’ pastoral calling regularly brings her to the Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic in Fort Worth. She blesses the clinic and escorts patients inside — sometimes past a crowd of protesters.

The number of women going into the clinic has fallen since Texas' Senate Bill 8 took effect Sept. 1, prohibiting abortion if cardiac activity is present, except in medical emergencies. But the few Texans still eligible for abortion need spiritual support, Forbes said, and so do the many who are not. That’s why she regularly partners with Whole Woman’s Health to organize clergy to support their work.

“I took a sacred vow to help people live a life free of shame, stigma and judgment,” said Forbes, an ordained interfaith minister in Dallas and manager of faith and outreach for social justice advocacy organization Just Texas. Too often, she said, religion has made women feel exactly that when it comes to abortion. Seeking pastoral care may not even cross their minds.

She and other progressive pastors in Texas and nationwide are trying to change that. For four decades, the religious right has based its opposition to abortion in “the sanctity of life,” but these faith leaders say the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of mothers is equally sacred.

While some may be surprised to find faith leaders advocating for abortion rights and offering to assist women seeking abortions, Forbes and others pointed out this is nothing new. In 1967, a United Methodist minister started the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, and over 1,000 pastors, priests and rabbis formed an interstate network to help women access abortion in the pre-Roe v. Wade era. Just Texas is part of that spiritual tradition of advocating for women’s rights, Forbes said.

“Clergy have been preparing and have prepared to offer pastoral care for women since before SB 8 went into effect,” Forbes said. "While it was jarring, and it has created a sense of hostility and fear, it doesn’t change what progressive people of faith have been doing.”

Sometimes Forbes’ work is counseling those who have been shamed by their families or communities and sometimes she helps coordinate transportation to states with less restrictive laws. For her and other progressive pastors, it has also meant speaking publicly, letting people know they’re there.

From the pulpit

Rabbi Mara Nathan leads Temple Beth-El in San Antonio. During the High Holy Days in September, she gave a sermon on the Jewish value of choice. Reform Judaism teaches life begins at birth, she said, and also “treasures women’s autonomy.”

She’s concerned that narrow religious interests — namely conservative Christian interests — are reflected in the new law, to the exclusion of the teachings of other faiths, like hers. Nathan wanted her congregation to be clear that she supported their reproductive rights and that their faith did as well.

"I’ve always felt very pro-choice, but also I feel very confident that there are a lot of teachings that go back hundreds of years that prioritize the well-being of the woman,” Nathan said.

Rev. Amy Meyer is the head pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Elgin, about 35 miles northeast of Austin. In October, as the effects of the state's new abortion law were becoming clear, Meyer also felt compelled to address the issue with her church in a sermon and podcast, inviting her congregation to be intellectually honest about what the Bible does and does not say.

"I don’t think that God is quiet on the issue,” Meyer said, “But I do think the Bible doesn’t spell things out for us in terms that are helpful on today’s issues.”

In her sermon, she read from Dartmouth College professor Randall Balmer’s 2014 Politico article, in which he refuted the common assumption that midcentury Christians were of one mind on abortion, leading to the rise of the Moral Majority after Roe v. Wade. In fact, Balmer wrote, in the earliest days after the 1973 Supreme Court decision, churches were mostly quiet on the matter, and prominent evangelical W. A. Criswell, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, praised the decision, saying, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Evangelical opposition to abortion became more rigid as conservative political strategists, authors and pastors tied it to Christian family values and sexual morality in the 1980s and 1990s. Statewide coalitions and advocacy organizations supportive of the new Texas abortion law — like the Coalition for Life and Texas Alliance for Life — have predominantly evangelical Christians and Catholics on their boards of directors.

Historically, however, within Christianity and Judaism, Meyer said, the conversation has always been nuanced. Religious teachers have debated the issue for centuries — taking into account different beliefs on the beginning of human life and reconciling this with the need to consider the health and welfare of a mother.

“When we focus solely on the beginning of life, we’re taking women out of the equation and it needs to be at the top of the equation,” Meyer said.

Beyond the womb

Some theologically conservative faith leaders are trying to balance the two concerns — life in the womb and support for the person carrying it. Many Catholics oppose abortion as part of a “consistent life ethic” that includes more progressive social concerns like support for welfare, opposition to capital punishment and, for some, pacificism.

Sister Norma Pimentel’s Catholic faith tells her to focus less on debating when life begins — “God already knew us before we were conceived. It’s not a matter of what point we become a human life,” she said — and more on God’s intentions for life. She is aligned with her church's anti-abortion position but she says supporting women is also needed.

As executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Pimentel tries to alleviate the “stressors” that lead people to seek abortion.

“As a society, we need to help mothers,” Pimentel said. “We fail them when they see abortion as the only option.”

Catholic Charities Pregnancy Center provides diapers, milk and ongoing support and counseling. “We want to make sure women don’t feel alone," Pimentel said.

Such an earnest effort is not reflected in SB 8, said Rev. Natalie Webb, senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin. “People will say that it is about ethics, but it is absolutely not about ethics. All of that legislation is about suppressing women.”

If efforts to restrict abortion were rooted in Biblical ethics, Webb said, they would include subsidized child care, social safety nets and accountability for the men involved. “We’re not talking about any of those things,” she said.

Her congregation is one of the Reproductive Freedom Congregations trained by Just Texas, because she wants more churches to be a go-to for spiritual and practical support when people are deciding whether or not to stay pregnant. “It’s an indictment of the church that we’ve let women think they have to do this alone.”

In her 28 years of ministry, Pastor Cheryl Kimble has counseled several women through dangerous and nonviable pregnancies, including some that ended in termination. As pastor of The Church @ Highland Park in Austin, she always supported families whatever their decision, but now “by the time they come to me there is no option,” she said, “My hands are tied.”

Whatever shame, grief and guilt a person experiences after an abortion, Kimble said, “when the government tells you that it should be illegal, that guilt will be increased.”

Counsel for those heavy emotions, she said, is a pastoral domain, and the law is making it more difficult.

On the front lines

Forbes knows many women do not feel they can seek out a pastor or priest for support. While Just Texas is trying to change that, she said, she’s also adamant that some of the pastoral care be directed toward the doctors, nurses and others working inside abortion clinics — those on the “front lines” who will then deliver mental and emotional care to their patients.

“What churches should be offering [clinic workers] are the ones that offer that,“ Forbes said. ”Our clinics are so vital. This is why we do blessings at clinics. This is why we do pastoral care.”

It was the women at the abortion clinic who helped her most when she needed an abortion, said Forbes, who had two abortions in her teens. Her grandfather was a minister — and as much as she loved her grandparents, she knew they would not have supported her decision. It was the women in the clinic who made her feel understood, safe from judgment and hopeful. They ministered to her in a way she wants to minister to others.

“My abortion directly influenced not only my personal life, but also the calling I had as clergy,” Forbes said. Because she felt that relief firsthand — the most common emotion women report feeling after an abortion — she knows shame and guilt don’t have to define the emotional experience.

“What they are ashamed of is that other people judge their choices,” Forbes said. “The most freeing thing I can say to them is that the God of their understanding, not their religion, loves and accepts them as they are and wants them to thrive.”

Bekah McNeel is a San Antonio-based freelance writer. If you have feedback or a tip related to this story, email editors@texastribune.org.

Disclosure: Politico has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/11/24/texas-abortion-seekers-religion/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

The US was ill-prepared for a pandemic. A medical anthropologist explains why capitalism and government deregulation are to blame

Elanah Uretsky, Brandeis University

It's unclear when the pandemic will come to an end. What may be an even more important question is whether the U.S. will be prepared for the next one. The past year and a half suggests that the answer may be no.

As a medical anthropologist who has spent the past 20 years studying how the Chinese government reacts to infectious disease, my research can provide insight into how countries, including the U.S., can better prepare for disease outbreaks.

Researchers agree that a good response starts with a strong public health system. But this is something that has been sidelined by the United States' neoliberal system, which places more value on free markets and deregulation than public welfare.

Neoliberalism promotes a free market accessible to the wealthy few, making essential services less free for everyone else.

As US neoliberalism evolved, public health devolved

Neoliberal economic policies became popular in the 1980s during the Reagan and Thatcher eras. This new approach aimed to make government leaner and more efficient through measures like market deregulation, privatization and reduction of government provision of public services like health and education – resources that do not necessarily lend themselves to market production.

While neoliberal governments still work to promote the health, welfare and security of their citizens, they place the responsibility of providing those services in the hands of private entities like health insurance companies and nongovernmental organizations. This gives the government space to focus on economic performance.

But placing responsibility for a public good into the hands of a private corporation turns that good into a commodity that people need to buy, rather than a service publicly available to all.

Spending on health care in the U.S., including on hospitals, medications and private insurance, has more than tripled in the past 60 years. But the public health system that helps the nation prepare for the unexpected has been neglected.

U.S. spending on the local health departments that help to avert epidemic outbreaks and protect the health of populations fell by 18% between 2010 and 2021. Two and a half cents of every medical dollar goes toward public health, a figure that has fallen from 1930 levels of 3.3 cents of every dollar. This has allowed the U.S. to manage health risks like chronic diseases that threaten individual's health. But it leaves the nation inadequately prepared for population-level major health threats that have a much bigger effect on the economy and society.

Public health cuts left the U.S with a skeletal workforce to manage the pandemic. Because of this, responsibility fell to individuals. For example, without mandatory workplace COVID-19 safety guidelines, essential workers faced daily exposure to the coronavirus with insufficient to no protective gear and sanitizing supplies. They had to protect both their own health and the health of their families when they returned home, a difficult task without proper resources and support.

And this was not unique to the U.S. There were similar COVID-19 outcomes in other neoliberal countries like the U.K. and India that had shifted priorities away from public health.

How Asian nations learned their lessons

The story was different in many Asian nations where people enjoy the same types of individual liberties as those who live in neoliberal societies. The difference is a collectivist type of mindset that guides these societies and encourages people and government to take responsibility for one another. In her book Flexible Citizenship, anthropologist Aihwa Ong argues that this leads to a societal model where citizens can be independent and self-reliant while also able to rely on a state that supports the collective. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea may have been better prepared to respond to the pandemic because most people are accustomed to protecting themselves and their communities.

Like China, these countries also learned from their recent experience with a pandemic. In 2003, China and much of Asia were caught off guard with the emergence of SARS. Like the U.S., China's public health system had taken a backseat to investment in market reforms for over 20 years. As a result, it couldn't accurately track individual cases of infections.

Following the end of the SARS outbreak, however, the Chinese government improved training for public health professionals and developed one of the most sophisticated disease surveillance systems in the world. This allowed China to respond more quickly to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and late 2019 COVID-19 outbreaks, once it was able to get past the initial bureaucratic and political hurdles that prevented local doctors and government officials from sounding the alarm.

Some have attributed this swift action to China's authoritarian form of government that allows for greater control over individual lives. But prioritizing public health is not new to China. This became official practice as early as 1910 when it adopted the methods of quarantine, surveillance and masking to respond to an outbreak of pneumonic plague.

Could this work in the US?

Much like SARS did with China, COVID-19 has exposed huge holes in the American public health infrastructure.

Take for example contact tracing. SARS taught China and other affected countries the importance of a robust system to identify and track people who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The Chinese government sent more than 1,800 teams of scientific investigators to Wuhan to trace the virus, which helped their efforts to quickly bring the virus under control.

In the U.S., on the other hand, poorly funded and thinly staffed public health departments struggled to test and notify people who had been in direct contact with infected individuals. This crippled the U.S.'s ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In my home state of Massachusetts, the local government teamed up with the global health organization Partners in Health to start a contact tracing operation. But even then, people were left to fend for themselves. This became all the more evident as people scrambled for vaccines after their initial approval, through Facebook groups and informal volunteer networks that worked to help people secure appointments. Those who had resources learned how to take advantage of the system while others were overlooked.

This is typical of a U.S. health care system that is consumer-oriented and market-based. Americans are often convinced that the solution to a health problem must be technical and costly. The focus was placed on developing vaccines and therapeutics, which are essential for ending the pandemic, while ignoring lower-cost solutions.

But masking and social distancing – non-pharmaceutical interventions that have long been known to save lives during disease outbreaks – fell by the wayside. Uptake of these simple interventions is dependent on strong and coordinated public health messaging.

As seen in several Asian nations like Taiwan and South Korea, a well-thought-out plan for public health communication is key to a unified response. Without clear, coordinated directions from a public health system, it becomes difficult to prevent the spread of an outbreak.

What it takes to be prepared

Anthropologist Andrew Lakoff describes preparedness as more than just having the tools. It's also about knowing how and when to use them, and keeping the public properly informed.

Such preparedness can only happen in a coordinated fashion organized by national leadership. But the U.S. has seen little of this over the past year and a half, leaving pandemic response up to individuals. In an era where emergent viruses are an increasing threat to health and welfare, the individualism of neoliberal policies is not enough. While neoliberalism can be good for an economy, it's not so good for health.The Conversation

Elanah Uretsky, Associate Professor of International and Global Studies, Brandeis University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alarm grows as COVID cases spike in Europe and US deaths in 2021 top 2020’s toll

Europe is in the grip of a potentially devastating fourth coronavirus wave and the United States has now recorded more Covid-19 deaths in 2021 than it did in 2020, heightening alarm among public health experts who fear another brutal winter surge.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's regional director for Europe, warned Saturday that the coronavirus could kill 500,000 more people in Europe by March if political leaders don't take immediate action to forestall the current spread and increase vaccine uptake, which has been lagging in parts of the continent due, in some cases, to anti-vaccine sentiment.

"Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region," Kluge told the BBC.

In an effort to quell a major spike in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, the Austrian government announced Friday that it would institute a nationwide lockdown and soon mandate coronavirus vaccinations for its entire adult population. Thus far, around 65% of Austria's population has been fully vaccinated—one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

"The virus is back with new rigor in Europe again and new catastrophic waves are imminent in Africa and Asia," said Shailly Gupta, communications adviser with Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign, pointing to regions that have been denied adequate supplies of vaccines and therapeutics. "Wealthy nations need to understand that unless everyone everywhere is vaccinated, the situation is not going to change."

"Countries need to stop hoarding tests, drugs, and vaccines and big pharmaceutical companies need to stop hoarding technology if they really want to control this pandemic," she added.

Austria's mandate, set to take effect in February, prompted immediate backlash. On Saturday, tens of thousands of people—including many aligned with the country's far-right Freedom Party—took to the streets of Vienna to denounce the public health measure, which Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said is necessary to break the nation's vaccination plateau and prevent further deaths.

"We have too many political forces in this country who vehemently and massively fight against this," he said in a speech Friday. "This is irresponsible. It is an attack on our health system. Goaded by these anti-vaxxers and from fake news, too many people among us have not been vaccinated. The consequence is overfilled intensive care stations and enormous human suffering. No one can want that."

The Associated Press reported that "demonstrations against virus restrictions also took place in Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland, and the Netherlands on Saturday, a day after Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in Rotterdam."

"Protesters rallied against coronavirus restrictions and mandatory Covid-19 passes needed in many European countries to enter restaurants, Christmas markets, or sports events, as well as mandatory vaccinations," AP noted. "The Austrian lockdown will start Monday and comes as average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks and hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that intensive care units are reaching capacity."

As The Week's Ryan Cooper noted in a recent column, "There is a clear inverse relationship between shots and spread" in Europe.

"The countries suffering truly galloping outbreaks—mostly places to the south and east like Greece, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Slovakia—are typically below 70% full vaccination, often quite far below. By contrast, there appears to be a rough breakpoint near 75-80% vaccination where the rate of case growth is much slower. It's surely not a coincidence Portugal and Spain are the most-vaccinated countries on the continent, and both have thus far mostly avoided a big resurgence."

In the U.S., meanwhile, data from the federal government and Johns Hopkins University show that the official Covid-19 death toll in 2021 surpassed 385,457 on Saturday, topping 2020 fatalities. The nation's total death count currently stands at 770,800—the highest in the world.

"The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some communities were important factors [this year]," the Wall Street Journal reported. "The milestone comes as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations move higher again in places such as New England and the upper Midwest, with the seven-day average for new cases recently closer to 90,000 a day after it neared 70,000 last month."

The surge comes as few public health restrictions remain in place across the U.S. Last week, the Biden administration suspended enforcement activities related to its vaccination and testing mandates for private businesses after a federal appeals court temporarily halted the requirements.

All U.S. adults are now eligible for booster shots, but public health experts have cautioned that the broad availability of third doses may not do much to stem the current spike in cases given that it's largely being fueled by the unvaccinated. Less than 60% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the latest figures from Our World in Data.

A recent analysis by the Financial Times found that more booster shots have been administered in rich countries over a three-month period than total doses have been given in poor countries in all of 2021. The head of the WHO called for a moratorium on booster shots in August in an effort to bolster vaccination drives in poor countries, but the U.S. and other rich countries dismissed his demand.

Just 5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.

"The evidence isn't there that a large rollout of boosters is really going to have that much impact on the epidemic," argued Ira Longini Jr., a vaccine expert and professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones wrote Saturday that "in the popular imagination, 2020 gets all the bad press, but this year has been no sunny day at the beach, either."

"Sure, several effective Covid-19 vaccines emerged, but so did the highly contagious Delta variant, as well as new, more virulent strains of anti-vax sentiment, tightly yoked to conservative political ideology," Philpott noted. "Worst of all, intellectual property hoarding has meant that the vaccines have so far largely bypassed low-income nations of the Global South, wreaking untold human misery and giving the virus ample opportunity to generate more contagious and/or more virulent strains."

Tax money lost to abuses by the rich could pay to vaccinate entire world 3 times over

Ending abuses of the global tax system by the super-rich and multinational corporations would allow countries to recoup nearly half a trillion dollars in revenue each year—enough to vaccinate the world's population against Covid-19 three times over.

That estimate is courtesy of The State of Tax Justice 2021, a new report that argues rich countries—not the "palm-fringed islands" on the European Union's tax haven blacklist—are the primary enablers of offshoring by large companies and tax evasion by wealthy individuals.

According to the report, members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) deserve "the lion's share of blame" for permitting rampant abuses of the global tax system, which has become increasingly leaky in recent decades as countries have altered their laws to better serve the interests of the well-off.

Produced by the Tax Justice Network, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, and Public Services International, the new report finds that $312 billion annually is "lost to cross-border corporate tax abuse by multinational corporations and $171 billion is lost to offshore tax evasion by wealthy individuals."

"Higher-income countries are responsible for over 99% of all tax lost around the world in a year to offshore wealth tax evasion," the report notes. "Lower-income countries are responsible for less than 1%."

The total $483 billion in tax revenue lost to offshoring and evasion each year is only "the tip of the iceberg," said Tax Justice Network data scientist Miroslav Palanský, who stressed that the estimate is just "what we can see above the surface thanks to some recent progress on tax transparency."

"We know there's a lot more tax abuse below the surface costing magnitudes more in tax losses," he added.

Among OECD members, the United Kingdom and its so-called "spider web" of tax havens—along with the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland—are the world's worst enablers of global tax abuses, according to the new analysis, which comes weeks after the Pandora Papers further exposed how world leaders, celebrities, and billionaire business moguls are exploiting tax havens to shield trillions of dollars in assets.

While offshoring and evasion cost rich countries more money in absolute terms than poor nations, "their tax losses represent a smaller share of their revenues—9.7% of their collective public health budgets."

"Lower-income countries in comparison lose less tax in absolute terms, $39.7 billion a year, but their losses account for a much higher share of their current tax revenues and spending," the new analysis finds. "Collectively, lower-income countries lose the equivalent of nearly half (48%) of their public health budgets—and unlike OECD members, they have little or no say on the international rules that continue to allow these abuses."

The report estimates that the revenue poor countries lose to tax abuses on a yearly basis "would be enough to vaccinate 60% of their populations, bridging the gap in vaccination rates between lower-income and higher-income countries."

Dr. Dereje Alemayehu, executive coordinator of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, said in a statement that "the richest countries, much like their colonial forebearers, have appointed themselves as the only ones capable of governing on international tax, draped themselves in the robes of saviors, and set loose the wealthy and powerful to bleed the poorest countries dry."

"To tackle global inequality," said Alemayehu, "we must tackle the inequality in power over global tax rules."

One way to do that, the new report argues, is to shift tax-setting authority away from the OECD—"a small club of rich countries"—to the United Nations.

Advocates say the case for such a move has become even more compelling since October, when OECD members agreed to a new global tax framework that would do little to meaningfully crack down on tax dodging by massive corporations.

Additionally, the new report recommends an excess profits tax on multinational corporations and a wealth tax designed "to fund the Covid-19 response and address the long-term inequalities the pandemic has exacerbated."

"Another year of the pandemic, and another half-trillion dollars snatched by the wealthiest multinational corporations and individuals from public purses around the world," Alex Cobham, chief executive at the Tax Justice Network, said in a statement. "Tax can be our most powerful tool for tackling inequality, but instead it's been made entirely optional for the super-rich."

"We must reprogram the global tax system to protect people's wellbeing and livelihoods over the desires of the wealthiest," Cobham added, "or the cruel inequalities exposed by the pandemic will be locked in for good."

Concerning new COVID variant spotlights dangers of vaccine apartheid

The detection of an unusual—and potentially more contagious—Covid-19 variant is intensifying fears that denying vaccines to large swaths of the world's population could allow the coronavirus to mutate unabated, prolonging the pandemic indefinitely and adding to the staggering global death toll.
While the highly infectious Delta strain remains the dominant mutation around the world, the Jerusalem Post reported over the weekend that a variant known as B.1.640 has drawn the attention of experts "because there are changes to the coronavirus spike protein that have never been seen before."

The strain has thus far been detected in several European countries as well as on the largely unvaccinated African continent, where scientists say the strain may have originated.

"This lineage has a large number of recent sequences in France and the Congo with additional sequences in Switzerland, Italy, the U.K., and the USA," virologist Tom Peacock noted on Twitter.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Bar-Ilan University Professor Cyrille Cohen warned that "this variant exemplifies that if you leave some of the world's population without access to vaccines, then the virus will continue to multiply and it will lead to more variants."

"Not giving vaccines to these countries may seem OK in the short term, but in the long term we might have new variants that are problematic that developed in unvaccinated countries," said Cohen. "I don't want to frighten people. There are just a few cases of B.1.640 now and it could very well be that in a month we could all forget about this variant."

"But it is an example of what could happen if there isn't access to vaccines for everyone," he added.

The World Health Organization is currently monitoring six coronavirus mutations that have been detected around the world, often emanating from countries—including India, Brazil, and South Africa—that have struggled to vaccinate their populations due to artificial shortages of doses or key materials.

While some middle- and low-income countries have ramped up their vaccination campaigns in recent months, much of Africa and other developing regions across the globe remain almost entirely without access to lifesaving shots.

"Less than 6% of the population in African states is vaccinated against coronavirus," notes a report published last week by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). "In many countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, and Tanzania, vaccination rates are even lower (at only around 1%), with little prospect of these picking up any time soon."

The report continues:

The cause of such low vaccination rates is well-known: despite recent improvements, global production continues to lag behind demand, with developing countries facing long delays in accessing vaccines. Meanwhile, global solidarity is ineffective; so far, COVAX has shipped only around 400 million doses of vaccines globally (compared with an initial target of delivering 1.9 billion doses in 2021). Donations from richer countries are also failing to materialize; as [of] late October, developed countries had delivered only 43 million doses of vaccines (out of pledges totaling about 400 million—which is still far below needs).

In a speech last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that "nearly 80 countries, half of them in Africa, will not reach our 40% vaccination target" by the end of the year.

"Countries with the highest vaccine coverage continue to stockpile more vaccines, while low-income countries continue to wait," Tedros said. "Every day, there are six times more boosters administered globally than primary doses in low-income countries. This is a scandal that must stop now."

Deeply unequal access to vaccines—often dubbed "vaccine apartheid" by public health campaigners and the leaders of vulnerable countries—is a major reason the coronavirus is still killing an average of 7,000 people each day. Our World in Data estimates that 7.5 billion coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, but just 4.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one shot.

In the face of such persistent inequities, the leaders of rich countries are facing growing pressure to force pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine recipes with manufacturers around the world, a move proponents say is necessary to quickly increase regional production and distribution.

Thus far, pharmaceutical companies such as Moderna and Pfizer—profiting immensely from their government-granted monopolies—have refused to voluntarily share their technology with developing countries.

Vox's Umair Irfan argued last week that the massive and persistent vaccination gap "isn't just a humanitarian crisis, it's a global threat to the fragile progress already made in the pandemic."

"The longer the pandemic rages," Irfan wrote, "the greater the chances of a dangerous mutation in the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, which could then spread around the world."

Unvaccinated San Francisco cop who missed COVID vaccine deadline dies from virus

A San Francisco, Calif., police officer who was placed on administrative leave after not meeting the department's vaccination deadline has reportedly died of COVID-19.

According to San Francisco Chronicle, Jack Nyce, a 17-year veteran police officer, tested positive for COVID-19 last Tuesday before being transported to a local hospital by ambulance. On Sunday, November 7, Nyce passed away at the Kaiser Hospital in Manteca, Calif. Nyce was 1 of 41 officers still classified as unvaccinated at the time of the department's November 1 vaccination deadline.

Shortly after his death, the San Francisco Police Department Chief of Police William Scott and Tony Montoya, the SFPD association president, both released statements mourning Nyce's death.

"A widely respected colleague most recently assigned to Park Station, Jack served our City and our department honorably and well for more than 17 years, in roles that included a variety of assignments," Scott said in a statement. "I will share more information about plans for his remembrance as they become available. In the interim, please keep Jack, his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

However, Scott noted that the police department would not comment on Nyce's cause of death.

Montoya offered condolences to the officer's family. "Our heartfelt condolences go out to Jack's wife, family, and friends," said Tony Montoya, the association's president. "This is a sad time for our department. Jack leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. Rest in peace Officer Nyce."

Nyce's death comes just one week after the department made headlines for its "rare" vaccination rate. Per CBS News: "As of last week, the San Francisco Police Department said that more than 97% of department employees were fully vaccinated by the November 1 deadline, including 97.4% of all sworn officers and 97.8% of non-sworn SFPD employees."

Ex-head of Trump’s COVID response team says 40 percent fewer Americans would have died if he’d supported basic protocals

Trump White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told congressional investigators behind closed doors between 30 percent and 40 percent fewer Americans would have died from COVID-19 if then-president Donald Trump and the Trump administration had supported just the basic coronavirus preventative protocols like mask wearing.

According to Birx's statement, up to 295,000 Americans would not have died if Trump and his administration had supported the basic protocols.

On April 3, 2020 Trump chose to make the announcement to the American people that CDC was advising mask-wearing, and during that same press briefing he immediately announced he would not wear a mask.

"It's voluntary and you don't have to do it," Trump declared on national television. Repeatedly stressing the word "voluntary," Trump added, "I don't think I'm going to be doing it."

The New York Times reports Dr. Birx, who is an expert in immunology, vaccine research, and global health, told investigators, "I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range."

Asked whether Mr. Trump did everything he should have to counter the pandemic, she said: "No. And I've said that to the White House in general, and I believe I was very clear to the president in specifics of what I needed him to do."

The Times separately today reports 737,526 Americans have died from COVID-19, and more than 45.5 million Americans have been infected.

Not just Sinema: This Democratic senator took $1M from pharma — and shoots down bill to lower drug costs

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., one of the top recipients of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, said last week that he won't support a House plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs as part of President Biden's Build Back Better plan.

Menendez told NBC News' Sahil Kapur last week that he is a "no" on H.R. 3, a longtime Democratic priority that was advanced earlier this year by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would save $456 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which Democrats hope to use to pay for other priorities in the bill like expanding Medicare coverage and health care access.

Menendez told Salon on Friday that the House bill "does not currently have a pathway to pass the House of Representatives," where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority. He did not rule out supporting legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and is waiting to see the plan being drafted by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who announced that he was working on a compromise solution earlier this year amid pushback from lawmakers in states with a heavy pharmaceutical industry presence. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, told Politico that the legislation had already been "eviscerated" in negotiations under pressure from Big Pharma-aligned Democrats.

"Sen. Wyden is working on the Senate proposal, the principles of which he laid out earlier this summer and they are not H.R. 3," Menendez said in a statement to Salon. "I continue to wait to see what proposal comes out of the Senate Finance Committee, which I expect will include language to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I continue to believe the focus must be lowering patient costs, and that will drive my analysis of any proposal."

Menendez told NJ Advance Media earlier this week that allowing Medicare to negotiate prices would not guarantee that consumers would pay lower costs, saying that his goal was to "ensure that the consumer at the counter gets relief and not just simply the government."

The House proposal was introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J. In an official statement, the committee pushed back against Menendez's argument that the bill does not provide relief for consumers.

"H.R. 3 would lower prescription drug prices for both seniors on Medicare and Americans with private health insurance," a committee spokesperson told Salon. "It empowers the federal government to negotiate fair prices for Medicare and makes those prices available to private health insurance plans. As a result, consumers would finally pay lower prices at the pharmacy counter."

As the committee statement later emphasized, the CBO has estimated that H.R. 3 would lower both prescription drug prices and health insurance premiums, and that prices would decrease by nearly 55% for the first group of drugs negotiated by the federal government. "It's clear that negotiation is the most meaningful way to rein in out of control prescription drug prices in the United States," the statement concluded.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., a leading proponent of the drug pricing bill and chief deputy whip for the Democratic House majority, told Salon in an interview that the legislation would in all likelihood ultimately include private health plans, thanks to pressure from employers who shoulder a "significant burden" from the cost of prescription drugs. His goal, he said, was to "make certain that employers get premium reductions," but added that applying Medicare costs to private plans could run afoul of budgetary rules.

"I definitely want consumers to get relief, as well as taxpayers and employers," Welch said. "The goal that Sen. Menendez is outlining is one I share."

Welch said H.R. 3 would accomplish that goal but acknowledged that as things stand the bill did not have enough votes to pass both chambers of Congress.

"We're going to have to make some modifications and we're in the process," he said adding that the goal of "having this benefit consumers" was the most important ingredient.

The Senate framework for the final bill is expected to include some Medicare negotiation and a cap on out-of-pocket costs, David Mitchell, the founder of the patient advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, told Salon.

But Politico reported last Friday that pressure from pharma-backed lawmakers, including Menendez, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., is likely to force Democrats to make major concessions on the number of drugs that could be negotiated.

Welch told Salon that negotiators are trying to address concerns about innovation raised by lawmakers from districts with a large pharmaceutical presence, like Peters, who represents San Diego and some of its affluent suburbs.

Mitchell, however, dismissed those concerns as a Big Pharma talking point. "Pharma itself reports that it expects to spend $300 billion on marketing and advertising," he said. Of the $500 billion in corporate profits that even the most aggressive bill, H.R. 3, might have taken in revenue, pharmaceutical companies "could cover $300 billion of that by reducing marketing and advertising expenditures" and deploying them to research and development.

Lawmakers like Peters and Schrader have lobbied to exclude drugs from being negotiated during their period of exclusivity, which can last as long as 12 years, and to limit the negotiations to drugs listed in Medicare part while excluding Part D, which purchases four times as many drugs.

"This provision would not fulfill the Democrats' promise to help patients and all Americans by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices," Audrey Baker, a spokesperson for Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, told Salon. "It would rob Medicare-negotiation legislation of its impact and would leave patients continuing to suffer from high drug prices.

"To be abundantly clear, a bill that does not allow negotiation on drugs covered by both Medicare parts B and D and on drugs still in their period of exclusivity is not a negotiation bill, and will not deliver the relief patients need."

The final legislation is also likely to drop a proposed excise tax on pharmaceutical companies that refuse to negotiate, according to Politico. Schrader told the outlet that the bill is expected to keep "just a little bit of negotiation."

Menendez and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., previously introduced their own drug pricing plan. While H.R. 3 would cap seniors' out-of-pocket costs at $2,000, Menendez's bill would set a cap at $3,100, but would not allow Medicare to negotiate prices.

The pharmaceutical industry has supported legislation that would cap out-of-pocket costs but would not allow for any price negotiation, which Mitchell called the "pharma scam."

"Pharma and the Menendez-Cassidy bill both aim to do this thing where pharma wants to be able to charge whatever it wants, don't lower prices [and] someone else pays for it," he said. As a result, Mitchell said, consumers would never see how high the prices are, but "the fact is, I will wind up paying for them as a patient, either through higher premiums, higher taxes or less money in our paychecks."

Menendez, whose state is home to headquarters for 14 of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies and more than 300,000 industry jobs, has been one of the top beneficiaries of Big Pharma's tsunami of campaign contributions over the last two years as the drug bill has moved closer to passing. Menendez has raised more than $1.1 million from the pharmaceutical industry over his career, and leads all senators in campaign contributions from the industry this election cycle, with more than $50,000 — even though he's not up for re-election until 2024.

This spring, as the bill made its way through Congress, Menendez received contributions of at least $1,000 each from the CEOs of eight top drug companies, including more than $5,000 from the heads of Pfizer and Merck, Stat News reported earlier this year. The pharmaceutical industry also spent more than $170 million on lobbying in the first six months of the year, more than any other industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

"While it might be true that the Senator has received donations from the pharmaceutical industry, as many other Senators have, it's no secret that New Jersey is considered the 'Medicine Chest of the World,'" a spokesman for Menendez said in a statement to Salon.

"The work the pharmaceutical industry does in the state is vital for the innovation of lifesaving therapies in general and specifically for New Jersey's economy, employing over 300,000 people. In spite of this, the Senator's focus is clear and has repeatedly urged the pharmaceutical companies publicly and privately to be part of the solution when it comes to tackling the high cost of prescription drugs."

Menendez has joined Sinema in opposing the House bill, but while he has left open the possibility of supporting a provision for Medicare negotiation, other Democrats have said that Sinema does not yet favor "any proposal to deal with prescription drugs." Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the driving forces in seeking to slash Biden's $3.5 trillion proposal, has said he supports the Medicare negotiation legislation, telling reporters earlier this month that it "makes no sense at all" that Medicare is not allowed to negotiate drug costs.

Peters and Schrader, two of the biggest recipients of Big Pharma cash in the House, voted against the bill in committee and are pushing their own alternative to drastically cut the number of drugs that Medicare could negotiate and the amount it could save. Sinema, who has raised over $750,000 from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, has opposed that proposal as well, even though she campaigned for her seat in 2018 on a promise to lower prescription drug costs. "I'm trying to get her to come my way because I think frankly, I think it would just be good to put this issue to rest," Peters recently told Politico.

A spokesperson for Menendez sought to distance him from the other Democrats who are endangering Biden's proposal.

"Senator Menendez has never once said he will oppose allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices in the reconciliation package," the spokesperson told Salon. "Throughout this process he's been clear on his priorities to address this issue in a way that benefits consumers at the pharmacy counter, not just providing savings for the government. He's certainly not one of the Democrats in the Senate threatening to derail the President's agenda and continues to work closely with his colleagues to advance multiple priorities in the reconciliation package to deliver results for New Jerseyans. He remains laser-focused on ensuring this package benefits all of New Jersey."

But pressure from Menendez and others to change the drug-pricing proposal likely means that Democrats will be unable to raise as much revenue as they had hoped to pay for other top priorities.

Doggett, who chairs a Ways and Means health subcommittee, questioned this week whether it was worth passing the legislation at all "if it's going to be some meaningless thing."

Welch said the final bill is also likely to cut revenue significantly for other Democratic priorities.

"The less savings we have, the more difficult it is for us to increase access to health care through lowering premiums and the ACA, expanding Medicaid in states that don't have it, expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision," he told Salon. "The money we save by getting fair pricing in pharma would be immensely beneficial to our prospects of expanding health care."

'Jurisdictional' questions raised after public officials 'harassed' Montana doctors who refused to treat COVID patient with ivermectin

At St. Peter's Health in Helena, Montana, a COVID-19 patient recently asked to be treated with ivermectin — a deworming drug that is typically used for cattle but is being pushed by far-right Trumpistas and conspiracy theorists as an anti-COVID drug. But hospital workers refused and said they were "harassed" by three Montana officials because of that refusal. Now, Montana officials are debating the role that law enforcement should have played in that incident and are addressing jurisdictional questions.

According to Helena Independent Record reporters Seaborn Larson and Holly Michels, "The Lewis and Clark County sheriff raised questions (on October 20) about whether State Attorney General Austin Knudsen overstepped his Department of Justice's jurisdiction when dispatching a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to St. Peter's Health in Helena last week. The question of jurisdiction stems from an incident in which the hospital said its doctors were threatened and harassed by three public officials over the care of a COVID-19 patient who had requested ivermectin, a drug not approved for treatment of the virus."

Larson and Michels continue, "Knudsen's office, after hearing from the patient's family, sent a trooper to the hospital to take statements, and Knudsen later called hospital leaders."

On October 20, according to the journalists, Knudsen's office said it has the power to use its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit to investigate "patient abuse or patient neglect."

"The office has also defended the attorney general's actions and has disputed the hospital's description of events," Larson and Michels note. "In an interview Wednesday, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said he does not believe Montana Highway Patrol had the jurisdiction to send the trooper to St. Peter's Health to investigate the dispute."

Dutton told the Independent Record that he is "hoping to visit with" Knudsen to discuss "jurisdictional issues."

What is a breakthrough infection? Here are 6 questions answered about catching COVID-19 after vaccination

Sanjay Mishra, PhD, Vanderbilt University

If you've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, maybe you figured you no longer need to worry about contracting the coronavirus. But along with the rising number of new COVID-19 cases globally and growing concern about highly transmissible strains like the delta variant come reports of fully vaccinated people testing positive for COVID-19.

Members of the New York Yankees, U.S. Olympic gymnast Kara Eaker and U.K. health secretary Sajid Javid are some of those diagnosed with what is called a “breakthrough infection."

As scary as the term may sound, the bottom line is that the existing COVID-19 vaccines are still very good at preventing symptomatic infections, and breakthrough infections happen very rarely. But just how common and how dangerous are they? Here's a guide to what you need to know.

What is 'breakthrough infection?'

No vaccine is 100% effective. Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was 80%-90% effective in preventing paralytic disease. Even for the gold standard measles vaccine, the efficacy was 94% among a highly vaccinated population during large outbreaks.

Comparably, clinical trials found the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were 94%–95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 – much more protective than initially hoped.

A quick reminder: A vaccine efficacy of 95% does not mean that the shot protects 95% of people while the other 5% will contract the virus. Vaccine efficacy is a measure of relative risk – you need to compare a group of vaccinated people to a group of unvaccinated people under the same exposure conditions. So consider a three-month study period during which 100 out of 10,000 unvaccinated people got COVID-19. You'd expect five vaccinated people to get sick during that same time. That's 5% of the 100 unvaccinated people who fell ill, not 5% of the whole group of 10,000.

When people get infected after vaccination, scientists call these cases “breakthrough" infections because the virus broke through the protective barrier the vaccine provides.

How common is COVID-19 infection in the fully vaccinated?

Breakthrough infections are a little more frequent than previously expected and are probably increasing because of growing dominance of the delta variant. But infections in vaccinated people are still very rare and usually cause mild or no symptoms.

For instance, 46 U.S. states and territories voluntarily reported 10,262 breakthrough infections to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2021. By comparison, there were 11.8 million COVID-19 diagnoses in total during the same period.

Beginning May 1, 2021, the CDC stopped monitoring vaccine breakthrough cases unless they resulted in hospitalization or death. Through July 19, 2021, there were 5,914 patients with COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections who were hospitalized or died in the U.S., out of more than 159 million people fully vaccinated nationwide.

One study between Dec. 15, 2020, and March 31, 2021, that included 258,716 veterans who received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, counted 410 who got breakthrough infections – that's 0.16% of the total. Similarly, a study in New York noted 86 cases of COVID-19 breakthrough infections between Feb. 1 and April 30, 2021, among 126,367 people who were fully vaccinated, mostly with mRNA vaccines. This accounts for 1.2% of total COVID-19 cases and 0.07% of the fully vaccinated population.

How serious is a COVID-19 breakthrough infection?

The CDC defines a vaccine breakthrough infection as one in which a nasal swab can detect the SARS-CoV-2 RNA or protein more than 14 days after a person has completed the full recommended doses of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

Note that a breakthrough infection doesn't necessarily mean the person feels sick – and in fact, 27% of breakthrough cases reported to the CDC were asymptomatic. Only 10% of the breakthrough-infected people were known to be hospitalized (some for reasons other than COVID-19), and 2% died. For comparison, during the spring of 2020 when vaccines were not yet available, over 6% of confirmed infections were fatal.

In a study at U.S. military treatment facilities, none of the breakthrough infections led to hospitalization. In another study, after just one dose of Pfizer vaccine the vaccinated people who tested positive for COVID-19 had a quarter less virus in their bodies than those who were unvaccinated and tested positive.

What makes a breakthrough infection more likely?

Nationwide, on average more than 5% of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive; in Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma, the positivity rate is above 30%. Lots of coronavirus circulating in a community pushes the chance of breakthrough infections higher.

The likelihood is greater in situations of close contact, such as in a cramped working space, party, restaurant or stadium. Breakthrough infections are also more likely among health care workers who are in frequent contact with infected patients.

For reasons that are unclear, nationwide CDC data found that women account for 63% of breakthrough infections. Some smaller studies identified women as the majority of breakthrough cases as well.

Vaccines trigger a less robust immune response among older people, and the chances of a breakthrough infection get higher with increasing age. Among the breakthrough cases tracked by the CDC, 75% occurred in patients age 65 and older.

Being immunocompromised or having underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney and lung diseases and cancer increase the chances of breakthrough infections and can lead to severe COVID-19. For example, fully vaccinated organ transplant recipients were 82 times more likely to get a breakthrough infection and had a 485-fold higher risk of hospitalization and death after a breakthrough infection compared with the vaccinated general population in one study.

How do variants like delta change things?

Researchers developed today's vaccines to ward off earlier strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Since then new variants have emerged, many of which are better at dodging the antibodies produced by the currently authorized vaccines. While existing vaccines are still very effective against these variants for preventing hospitalization, they are less effective than against previous variants.

Two doses of the mRNA vaccines were only 79% effective at preventing symptomatic disease with delta, compared with 89% effective in the case of the earlier alpha variant, according to Public Health England. A single dose was only 35% protective against delta.

About 12.5% of the 229,218 delta variant cases across England through July 19 were among fully vaccinated people.

Israel, with high vaccination rates, has reported that full vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine might be only 39%-40.5% effective at preventing delta variant infections of any severity, down from early estimates of 90%. Israel's findings suggest that within six months, COVID-19 vaccines' efficacy at preventing infection and symptomatic disease declines. The good news, though, is that the vaccine is still highly effective at protecting against hospitalization (88%) and severe illness (91.4%) caused by the now-dominant delta variant.

So how well are vaccines holding up?

As of the end of July 2021, 49.1% of the U.S. population, or just over 163 million people, are fully vaccinated. Nearly 90% of Americans over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Scientists' models suggest that vaccination may have saved approximately 279,000 lives in the U.S. and prevented up to 1.25 million hospitalizations by the end of June 2021. Similarly, in England about 30,300 deaths, 46,300 hospitalizations and 8.15 million infections may have been prevented by COVID-19 vaccines. In Israel, the high vaccination rate is thought to have caused a 77% drop in cases and a 68% drop in hospitalizations from that nation's pandemic peak.

Across the U.S., only 150 out of more than 18,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in May were of people who had been fully vaccinated. That means nearly all COVID-19 deaths in U.S. are among those who remain unvaccinated.

The U.S. is becoming “almost like two Americas," as Anthony Fauci put it, divided between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Those who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 remain at risk from the coronavirus that has so far killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S.

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Sanjay Mishra, PhD, Project Coordinator & Staff Scientist, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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