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We’re only beginning to understand what happens with people after they ‘recover’ from COVID-19

While it would be easy to dismiss how a majority of white Republicans who are skeptical of taking a vaccine against COVID-19, there are good reasons why their skepticism is everyone’s problem. One of those reasons is that failure to vaccinate an adequate number of Americans expands the risk of a “fourth wave” of COVID-19 cases, as well as providing a pool of people who could harbor ongoing, endemic disease. It also expands the pool of a group we’re just beginning to understand—the millions who have been left so damaged by COVID-19, that they may never regain their full health.

The media has made a big deal of vaccine skepticism within the Black community, and there’s no doubt it plays some role in the disparity in most locations between the percentage of white Americans and Black Americans who have been vaccinated. However, an even larger factor is the way in which the vaccine has been distributed in many states. State officials in some red states are deliberately underproviding vaccines to cities where most Black residents live. The first-come first-serve nature of vaccine registration in some areas comes down to a mad online scramble in which those with the best internet and the most time to prowl vaccine registries wins. And the location of many vaccine “events” have been in heavily white areas.

Even so, skepticism about the vaccine among Black and Latinx Americans has been steadily falling, while the level among White Republicans has remained extremely high.

Since the chart above was made on Feb 23, the number of Republicans saying they would not get a vaccine has actually increased, while those saying they would be vaccinated has declined. The percentage of Blacks and white Republicans who have already been vaccinated is the same, but the percentage of Blacks saying that they intend to get vaccinated is twice the percentage of white Republicans saying the same. Trump supporters look to become the largest group of unvaccinated, with little sign that they’re becoming more accepting of the vaccine over time.

As with wearing masks, white Republicans appear to have taken a public health issue and turned it into a kind of negative “virtue signal.” They’re not going to get vaccinated because … freedom. And Trump’s secret vaccination isn’t going to help. Not only does this Republican adoption of anti-vax conspiracy theories generate a pool of Americans in which COVID-19 could bounce around as an endemic disease, it represents millions more who could easily join a group which hasn’t been much discussed, but could easily become an enormous issue over years and decades to come—coronavirus “long haulers.”

Even among early reports about the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan, there were indications that some patients were having exceptionally long recoveries. As the pandemic rolled on, every nation began to see more and more of these long haulers; patients whose tests for an active disease might be negative, but who continued to suffer from fatigue, “brain fog,” and other problems resulting from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. In some cases, these patients were those who had serious cases of COVID-19, including those who were hospitalized and spent significant periods on oxygen or on a ventilator. However, those cases may be easier to understand than the people who had relatively mild cases of COVID-19, but have found that the post-COVID period may be as bad, or worse, than the disease.

As NBC News reports, those suffering from lingering effects of COVID-19 are estimated to be 10% to 30% of the total infected—or up to 8.4 million Americans so far. To accommodate those struggling through the long-term effects of COVID-19, there are now more than 80 post-COVID clinics across America. These clinics are dealing with a bewildering array of symptoms. Arthritis-like pain in joints. Bone-weary fatigue. Ongoing difficulty in breathing. Recurring fevers. Even such puzzling effects as hair loss and double-vision. In all, a survey of patients identified 98 symptoms reported by those who have supposedly “recovered” from COVID-19. Some of these symptoms are not showing up immediately, but are hitting recovering patients weeks after they’re supposedly clear of the coronavirus.

Many of these patients are reported to be suffering effects not quite bad enough to land them back in the hospital, but are still facing “very severe symptoms, sometimes for a very long time.” Even for those whose jobs might accommodate working from home, that work has sometimes been impossible because of the severity of these ongoing symptoms.

The set of symptoms facing many COVID-19 survivors has been given a name by the NIH: “Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection” or PASC. There doesn’t seem to be any clear pattern among PASC patients. Unlike those dying from COVID-19, many of whom have been elderly, PASC patients are of all ages. 

Vaccines can prevent patients from developing COVID-19, but so far there is no medication to reverse the lingering effects of the disease for those suffering from PASC. There’s also no way to measure the effect that this long-term effect will have on the economy, but it’s clear that the cost will be felt both individually and collectively as America deals with lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, and simple human misery. Much of which, like COVID-19 deaths and illness, might have been avoided with a reasonable approach to the pandemic from the outset.

Trump’s failure to recognize the threat of the novel coronavirus and to take appropriate action cost half a million lives so far. It’s also condemned 8.4 million Americans to live with lingering effects that can severely affect their ability to do the most basic day-to-day activities. That white Republicans are still rejecting the vaccine that could prevent them from becoming one of the not-so-quick or the dead, isn’t just frustrating. It’s a threat to the health of all Americans, and to the nations’ economic recovery.

Johnson & Johnson gains manufacturing partner to push out more vaccine

As The Washington Post reports, President Biden will use a Tuesday speech on COVID-19 to announce that Merck pharmaceuticals will also be manufacturing the vaccine created by Johnson & Johnson. The vaccine—which needs only a single shot and can be more easily stored than other vaccines—just gained an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA and began shipping out to communities across the nation this week. 

Johnson & Johnson expects to ship 4 million doses this week. That rate is expected to rise, though it’s not yet clear how much the Merck partnership will help in increasing output. Johnson & Johnson had indicated that it would have 20 million doses available by the end of March, but that puts it well below the rate originally projected when the government announced its purchase of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. The Merck partnership may help the company make up that difference.

In September, Trump claimed that “every American” would have COVID-19 vaccination by April, a projection that never matched with the number of vaccines that had been ordered or with the rate of projected production. More recently, President Biden projected that Americans who want the vaccine should have access by July. Enough Americans may be vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity” several weeks sooner.

This announcement will be one of the first clear actions taken using the Defense Production Act, which Biden will use to give the two companies priority access to equipment and supplies necessary for vaccine production. 

Biden is expected to deliver the Merck news and to push for passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that recently passed the House when he addresses the nation on Tuesday.

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