COVID 19: The Good News and the Bad

As the year 2020 closes out there are two dramatic events happening nearly simultaneously regarding the China produced and disseminated COVID 19 virus. The first is that not one, not two, not three, but four separate vaccines have been developed to combat the spread of the virus – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Johnson & Johnson all have developed highly effective vaccines with efficacy rates near 95% for the first two mentioned – an efficacy rate far in excess of annual flu vaccines most of which do not exceed sixty percent. What is even more dramatic is that these vaccines were developed in less than nine months. The New York Times which has been wrong at virtually every turn during the pandemic opined on April 30, 2020:

“A vaccine would be the ultimate weapon against the coronavirus and the best route back to normal life. Officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, estimate a vaccine could arrive in at least 12 to 18 months.

“The grim truth behind this rosy forecast is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon. Clinical trials almost never succeed. We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before. Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years — more time than the public or the economy can tolerate social-distancing orders.”

What was different this time? President Donald Trump gathered the real scientist together and told them of the nation’s need and asked them what he could do, what the government could do, to hasten the development, testing and approval of a vaccine. (And by the real scientists I mean those who are out working in the laboratories – not the bureaucrats who spend their time wringing their hands, thinking of reasons for delay and avoiding responsibility for the necessary risks that always follow real science.) They told him about the bureaucratic delays and he fixed it to speed the process. (Development of medicines is seldom about laboratory time but almost always about bureaucratic delays.) In the end the scientist used the latest mRNA break through technology combined with a larger sampling for a shorter period of testing.

That’s the good news. Frontline scientist who seek answers where none existed before powered through not just the science but the do-nothing bureaucracy. Here the difference is that the frontline scientist rely on performance for employment longevity while the bureaucrats rely on the assurance that they will never be terminated no matter how little they produce.

And here is the bad news. Now that the real scientists have produced a highly effective vaccine, it has been turned over to the politicians and the bureaucrats for distribution and administration. And true to form, those who speak the loudest about “following the science” have promptly ignored the science in prioritizing who should receive the vaccine. The overwhelming scientific data demonstrates that the elderly – those over 65 – and particularly the elderly in nursing homes and/or graduated care facilities are at greatest risk for hospitalization and death. Data collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that while those over 65 account for just sixteen percent of the population they account for eighty percent of the COVID deaths. And while only 4.5 percent of those over 65 are in nursing homes they account for forty-two percent of the COVID deaths.

But are the elderly or even those confined to nursing homes at the top of the list? No! While in some states they may be in the first category of recipients, they are far down the list of those in that category – particularly in states run by Democrats. (And we need to pause here to remind all that it is the state governors who have been in charge of everything related to COVID, including the shut downs, the hospitals’ lack of preparation, the scarcity of respirators, and the decisions as to what to do with those in nursing homes – remember that the decision of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York to force COVID patients back into nursing homes killed over 5,000 New Yorkers and the same goes for New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan and not surprisingly they are all run by Democrat governors.)

No, instead of treating the most vulnerable, these governors have elected to treat those most visible – first responders, medical personnel, teachers, prison inmates, government employees, and now members of Congress and their staffs. And in doing so they have not discriminated between those at high risk of death from those with virtually no risk. According to an article in Brietbart News:

“CDC’s new IFR estimates broken down by age are part of the agency’s September 10 update to its “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios.”

“Based on the “Scenario 5: Current Best Estimate” for the IFR, Breitbart News confirmed the updated age-specific survival rates: 0-19 years old, 99.997 percent; 20-49 years old, 99.98 percent; 50-69 years, 99.5 percent; and 70 years old or older, 94.6 percent.

“That means that for people 69 years old or younger, the survival rate is between 99.5 percent and 99.997 percent, while for those 70 or older, it is an estimated 94.6 percent.

“Breitbart News gleaned the survival rate figures from the CDC’s IFR estimates: 0-19 years old, 0.003 percent; 20-49 years old, 0.02 percent; 50-69 years, 0.5 percent; 70 years old or older, 5.4 percent.”

Now apply it to those categories included within the first group to receive the vaccine. For instance, teachers are mostly under the age of sixty-five – their unions have made working beyond sixty undesirable. Their chance of dying if they contract COVID is less than 0.5 percent. The chance of their students dying from COVID are next to nothing. There is no need to put teachers in front of the elderly who are five times more likely to die from COVID than are teachers. Likewise, congressional members and their staffs (unless the member is over 65). Congressional staffers are mostly under the age of fifty. Their chances of dying from COVID are like those of the teachers. There is simply no reason to move them to the front of the line in lieu of those most at risk of dying.

First responders and medical personnel present a different problem. Not everyone that works for law enforcement or fire department is a “first responder.” Many work desk jobs and have little contact with the public as a part of their duties. The same is true for medical personnel. Even in major hospitals medical personnel are segregated based on their duties and most of those categories do not have contact with COVID patients. And in all of those categories we are talking about the vast majority being under the age of sixty and in relatively good health. The risk of morbidity is approximately the same as the general population and should not suggest putting them ahead of those at the highest risk of dying. An exception should be made for EMTs and Emergency Room personnel.

The politicians would all do well to follow the lead of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) who has vowed not to take the vaccine until those at greatest risk have been inoculated. Contrast that with Vice-President-Elect Camilla Harris who despite vowing not to take a vaccine developed under Mr. Trump’s administration, raced to the front of the line to take it at the first opportunity. Ms. Harris is fifty-six years old and her chance of dying should she contract the virus are less than 0.5%. But then Ms. Harris has never been a model for young women – or men, for that matter.

But here is the point. Despite the massive amount of data compiled during the pandemic, the politicians cannot bring themselves to make more granular decisions. For them, one size fits all. Making decisions for them must be so hard that they can only make one. But their failures to be more granular, to set aside publicity for efficacy, to place critical needs before political support, and to think of themselves last instead of first are going to cost people their lives. So when your elderly relative contracts the COVID virus and dies, thank the politicians who refused them access to a life saving vaccine.

I am seventy-six and in the most at-risk group although I am generally healthy. And while my bias may have influenced my decision to write this column, it did not influence the content.