The COVID-19 Pandemic: Colorado pauses and Omicron surgesDec 13, 2021
Across last week, the decline of Colorado's epidemic curve slowed, but it did not turn upward. Across the United States and in Europe, the pandemic continues its upward course with the clearest explanation being cold weather and more time spent indoors. The vexing problem of vaccine hesitancy has become global with notable resistance to vaccination and vaccine mandates in many countries, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Even in Africa, where vaccines are finally becoming available, vaccine hesitancy is a problem.
In the face of widespread alarm about the consequences of the Omicron variant and the surge of Delta, the multi-pronged and multi-level attack on public health measures continues. Personal choice about vaccination has emerged as a “right” without consideration of responsibility to others, including the public generally. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Senator Marshall, a Republican physician from Kansas, shamed those who are booster eligible but not yet vaccinated, while refusing to call for everyone to be vaccinated. In proposing defunding the vaccination mandate of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he stated: “These vaccine mandates are not about public health or science. If they were, the White House would recognize the 92% of Americans who have already built up immunity to this virus between vaccines and natural immunity…”. The 92% figure is attributed to the CDC, although I cannot find any documentation for it. He seems to be a proponent of natural immunity, which is not helping Kansas at the moment. COVID-19 is surging there and only 56% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Sticking with Kansas, Dr. Lee Norman, the Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, resigned in November. Considered as effective in managing the pandemic, his bluntness about the pandemic and the need for public health measures may have contributed to his departure. His “straight talk” did not sit well with Republicans and their insular and politicized views on the pandemic.
Last week, I was shocked to find that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s book—The Real Anthony Fauci—was high on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction. After spending $2.99 for an electronic version and skimming it, I suggest that it should be moved to the fiction side of the bestseller list. Subtitled “Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health,” this screed is what I would expect from this notorious and well-known anti-vaxxer (a word that is in dictionaries). Just one example: “From the outset, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and other therapeutics posed an existential threat to Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates’ $48 billion COVID vaccine project, and particularly to their vanity drug remdesivir, in which Gates has a large stake.” I will stop here. Don’t read the book, but its existence and apparently successful dissemination are deeply concerning.
Last week, we learned more about the Omicron variant and its transmissibility. The UK Health Security Agency provides a comprehensive, up-to-date, and concerning review of the evidence through Friday. Omicron is growing rapidly in the UK and shows greater transmissibility than the Delta variant. The preliminary neutralization data reviewed indicated less activity of antibodies against Omicron compared with Delta, but having a recent booster increased activity. In a “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” released Friday, the CDC described the 43 cases of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant since the first case on December 1. With this small number of cases, the clinical picture was mild with only one individual requiring hospitalization.
We will learn much more about the Omicron variant unfortunately. It has arrived.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health