COVID Update: Vaccines, Variants, and Endangered Kids

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The New England Journal of Medicine has published a letter reporting that Pfizer’s vaccine demonstrated strong efficacy in vitro against each of the most widespread and worrisome virus variants. In vitro is not in vivo as they say down at Vito’s, but this is still, tentatively, excellent news. Real world data remains to be gathered, but this result at least suggests that if we can in fact vaccinate the world fast enough, we still have a chance to clamp down hard on the virus.

Less cheerfully, reports from the UK, Sweden, France, Denmark and Italy all point to a disconcerting pattern of infection by the B.1.1.7 variant–our British cousin. It seems to infect children much more readily that the original recipe of Wuhan lineage. This is of particular concern because B.1.1.7 is rapidly taking over as the primary strain in the US, and the movement to reopen schools without further delay has a lot of momentum. Latest estimates I’ve seen are that we may be vaccinating 12-17 year olds in the US by late summer/early fall, but 0-11 year olds are unlikely to be approved before early 2022. The highest positivity rates in the UK for B.1.1.7 are among children age 9 or younger. What remains to be seen is how serious the disease is among children, including Long COVID risks.

Speaking of Long COVID, there’s more evidence that it is quite widespread — perhaps 30% of all cases linger on this way–and this includes asymptomatic cases. That is, people who get the disease and never show symptoms while they have it are still at risk of subsequently developing Long COVID effects.

Also spotted this week (and it’s only Tuesday) is a study which shows that high pollen counts significantly impair the immune system’s ability to resist a COVID infection. This is known to be true for other respiratory viruses, but has now been confirmed for SARS CoV-2 as well.

Although America’s vaccination program is picking up steam, we still have only 10% of our population fully vaccinated. Modelers are braced for a possible April/May surge in infections. The pollen won’t help.

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Tom is a writer and aspiring flâneur who today provides creative services to mostly technology-centered clients. He led the Encarta team at Microsoft and, long ago, put KZAM radio on the air.

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