Vol. 262 September 15, 2021 Three Epidemics: 1 Down, 2 Up, and a 3rd Vaccine?

“The Delta COVID-19 surge is devastating the unvaccinated.”


#1 DOWN – With the 2021 flu season over in the U.S. (Jan.-Mar. peaks) and the absence of flu epidemics in South America during their winter (June to Sept.) and none in Australia during their winter (July to Oct.) this year has been labeled as “The Year Flu Disappeared”. Why? The social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing of avoiding COVID-19 also stopped the spread of the flu virus. The current flu vaccine was developed from last year’s flu virus (which is usual) and the markedly reduced flu cases last year greatly reduces the chances of flu virus mutations, so this year’s flu vaccine is expected to be especially effective. (Sci Am August 2021)

COVID-19 has taught us some very valuable lessons about public health. Unfortunately those lessons represent a major cultural change. “Wearing masks, staying home from work with cold symptoms, and keeping kids with cold symptoms home from school” could help blunt our flu epidemic this year like last year. During the 2019-2020 flu season the U.S. experienced 24,000 deaths due to flu. In 2021 so far there have been 450. (Sci Am June 2021, pg. 8)

#1 UP – West Virginia went from an early (January 2020) national winner in vaccine roll-out to a September 2021 loser of rising COVID death rates, crowded under-staffed hospitals, and record numbers in ICUs due to a fall off in vaccinations (total now is only 48% of the state), the easing of mask requirements by the governor, and a rapid spread of the Delta variant. The peak of the surge is expected to be Thanksgiving. (Bos Globe Sept. 13, 2021)

A focus group of Trump voters (aka Republicans) gathered by an experienced Republican pollster revealed that most participants were not pandemic deniers, actually knew people who had been seriously ill from COVID-19, and even some who had the virus themselves. But MANY professed 1) “suspicions of the federal government” and 2) the sense that “science was often oversold”. The columnist noted that “Republican spokespeople have been saying both those things for 40 years.” (N. Oreska, Prof. of History of Science, Harvard, Sci Am. June 2021, pg. 81)

Two experimental group-sourcing COVID data apps, “Lookout” and “Scout”, are being tested in several colleges to improve real-time COVID symptom-tracking and contact-tracing by small specific locations. The apps hope to re-enforce student awareness of their individual prevention practices and to correlate with newer data sources like waste water analysis using visual depictions of complicated data useful to both students and researchers. (NYTimes May 18, 2021)

#2  UP -Last year COVID-19 killed more than 300,00 in the U.S.while our drug overdoses soared to a record of 93,000 in 2020 including a 30% increase of deaths to 21,000 for that year (There have been about 70,000 opioid-related deaths since 1999.) About 70% of recent cocaine overdose deaths involved fentanyl. (Bos Globe July 15, 2021

Vaccine #3? – A third COVID vaccine (CoronaVac) could be just a spritz in the nose. It is an inactivated whole coronavirus, different than the two injectable MRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna). The theory behind the effectiveness of a nasal spray vaccine is that stops the virus at the site of entry, the lining of the nose. A nasal spray flu vaccine has been shown in the past to be effective against the flu. CoronaVac was sprayed into the nose of over 4 million Chileans and was 85-90% effective in preventing hospitalization, ICU admission, or death from COVID-19. There were no significant adverse effects. Unlike the MRNA vaccines, protection after only one dose of the nasal spray was low. Effectiveness in reducing the transmission of the virus from an infected vaccinated person, now known to be true of the MRNA vaccines, has yet to be proven. It was also less effective in preventing mild symptoms. (NEJMed 385;10 Sept.2, 2021)


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