By Joseph Giambrone, Auburn University professor emeritus
This editorial is not intended to offend, it is a plea for an acceptance of reality and to prevent unnecessary illness, misery and death. Without question, COVID-19 is the preeminent epidemic of the U.S. in the past century. We have experienced 34.4 million diagnosed cases and possibly three times as many infections that were not confirmed because of deficiencies in testing and a high proportion of asymptomatic cases. We have lost 610,000 of our fellow citizens, also an undercount, leaving millions of grieving relatives. We have spent trillions on alleviating the economic fallout arising from necessary quarantines and shutdowns implemented to control the infection during at least 12 pre-vaccination months.
The Trump Administration had the foresight to invest in technology that capitalized on 12 years of vaccine research and development, resulting in three effective, marketable vaccines. The Biden Administration, building on the contribution of the pharmaceutical industry, initiated a program of vaccination that has resulted in 56.5% of our population receiving at least one dose and we have 48.8% fully vaccinated. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has undergone successive mutations with inevitable introduction of these strains into the U.S. despite restrictions on international travel. The Delta variant is now responsible for 83% of incident cases. This latest stain is as infectious as the chicken pox virus and one person can infect as many as nine people and can result in an increase in infection and more severe disease in a younger age group.
In the last seven days, the average increase in hospitalizations has attained 32% and deaths from COVID-19, a lagging indicator, have climbed to 223 per day as a seven-day average. Infections are predominantly in areas with low rates of vaccination. It is calculated that 95% of those dying of COVID-19 were unvaccinated. It is therefore apparent that virtually every death could have been prevented by embracing science and complying with responsible public health recommendations to receive a vaccine.
Over the past 50 years, vaccines have been developed that effectively have eradicated specific infections both in the U.S. and the world. We no longer fear smallpox, and polio has been eradicated from almost all nations. Vaccinated children are protected from common but previously serious diseases, including measles, whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox, tetanus, rubella, Human Papilloma virus, Hepatitis A and B viruses, meningitis, pneumococcal pneumonia and diphtheria. Vaccinated adults are protected from influenza, shingles, pneumonia, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
Somehow COVID-19 has emerged as an exception to the general adoption of vaccination as a means to suppress an infection. COVID-19 vaccination has been transformed from a public health issue into the political spectrum. Only now, in the face of increasing numbers of incident cases, hospital admissions and deaths and higher positivity rates on testing, are the governors of the most impacted states speaking up to encourage vaccination among the hesitant and offering lotteries, which can provide monetary or college tuition incentives. Clearly, the upsurge in cases is an epidemic of the unvaccinated amid a declining pandemic. The higher the proportion of susceptibility of the populace, the longer it will take to achieve effective resolution. The high proportion of unprotected in communities will result in the emergence of new variants with potentially even greater impact on unvaccinated, susceptible individuals.
Many of the largest businesses in the U.S., U.S. governmental agencies, branches of the armed forces, hospitals, state and private universities and state- and public-school systems have mandated vaccination. For these institutions religious and health exceptions are allowed; however, unvaccinated individuals will be subjected to routine testing and must wear masks. In addition, some larger restaurants, department stores, European and cruise ship travel, rapid transit systems, musical concerts and Broadway theaters have mandated vaccination. This proactive action along with other precautions has effectively secured their integrity and safety from the ravages of this disease. In contrast, individuals in politics and some media personalities are discouraging vaccination both in the U.S. and worldwide through social media to the detriment of public health and recovery from the pandemic.
Let us collectively put aside our prejudices and fears and ignore those with political or financial agendas who spread misinformation. At best they may be sincere but misguided. At worst they are cynics with figurative blood on their hands. Let us adopt the recommendations of scientists, public health specialists and our personal physicians to accept vaccination as a safe (4.2 billion doses in 180 countries have already been safely given) and highly efficacious means of preventing serious disease and suppressing viral transmission. While rare cases of reactions to COVID-19 vaccines have occurred, they generally are mild and wane in a short period of time. In addition, a small percentage of vaccine breakthroughs have occurred in vaccinated individuals resulting in a mild form of disease, however, the majority of these have occurred in people over 65 and none have resulted in hospitalization or death.
Naysayers complain that changes in CDC recommendations for prevention of COVID-19 results in confusion. While recommendations may change, they result from ever-evolving variants. Nonetheless, if we achieve population immunity, we will stop the evolution of new variants and have a chance to restore our pre-COVID-19 way of life and to protect children, the elderly and the immunosuppressed. Those among us who have not yet been vaccinated should consider doing so, if not for themselves then for their loved ones and even those whom they do not know who have lives to live.
About Joseph Giambrone:
Joseph Giambrone is a professor emeritus in Auburn University’s Department of Poultry Science with a joint appointment in the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. During his graduate research career at the University of Delaware, he was part of a research group that developed the first vaccine against an antigenic variant of an avian coronavirus. During a sabbatical leave during his tenure at Auburn, he was part of a research group in Australia that sequenced the entire genome of antigenic variant of a coronavirus of chickens. During his 42-year research career as a molecular virologist, immunologist and epidemiologist, he has made critical advancements in understanding the ecology of viral pathogens, led efforts to improve detection and surveillance of viral diseases and developed new and effective vaccines and vaccine strategies to protect commercially reared chickens as well as pathogens, such as avian influenza viruses, which have spilled over into human populations. His research has had a profound impact on practices used today to reduce the incidence and severity of viral diseases of commercially reared poultry as well in human populations.