Not giving a damn about the lives of individual Americans is Donald Trump’s real superpower. Being a sociopath who lacks all empathy and is incapable of seeing anything beyond how events affect his own bank account and TV Q may not seem like it would be a political advantage, but it allows Trump to get past all those barriers that hold many public figures back. Barriers like just the slightest concern for decency, integrity, and the usual fear of being seen as an uncaring jackass.
Thanks to his power, Trump can go anywhere, say anything, and leave behind a mess of damage that’s completely not his concern. Like the trail of COVID-19 cases that is following Trump rallies around the nation.
“[Trump] has repeatedly held these gatherings not only in defiance of public health guidelines, but seemingly to spite them: downplaying the threat of the virus, eschewing basic public health principles such as wearing face coverings and packing his supporters shoulder to shoulder for political optics.”
One clarification: There’s Halloween scary—the kind that comes with cardboard cutouts of black cats, and plastic skeletons, and there’s terrifying AF—which comes with a genuine existential threat to your friends and family. Trump is the second kind. And as Trump is bringing his bag of viral treats to boys and girls across the nation, experts are only starting to unfold the real long-term effects of this disease. Which turn out to be worse than anyone thought. And then … still worse than that.
When Trump held his “comeback” rally in Tulsa way back in June, it immediately generated a sharp spike in cases both in Tulsa and across Oklahoma. It also seems to be the point of contact for former pizza guy, former Republican candidate, former living human being Herman Cain.
That event set the tone for the denialism and middle finger to public health that has turned subsequent Trump rallies into not just theoretical hotspots for COVID-19, but real-life catastrophes for the communities involved. There are at least 11 cities where Trump has plummeted down from the sky to bring a sleigh full of biological warfare, with the worst effects coming when Trump visited areas where the level of COVID-19 was actually low before he came to town.
And experts are only starting to understand that the costs of this disease go far beyond the awful tally of hundreds of thousands dead. As MSNBC reports, long-term cases of COVID-19 have outcomes that could not even have been imagined at the outset of the pandemic. It’s one thing to understand that some COVID-19 sufferers may have lingering effects that last for weeks. It’s another to realize that people who have “recovered” from the disease are seeing higher levels of heart attacks and higher levels of strokes, even when the course of their illness appeared to be mild. This isn’t just hitting people in their 60s or older, it’s striking down victims at every age—and likely leading to a large undercount of the real number of deaths, the real cause of which is the impact of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is even proving to be a gateway disease, leaving people with damage to organs and tissues that generates “COVID-onset diabetes” and “COVID-onset lupus.” With 9 million Americans having tested positive for the disease, and millions more infected but untested, the healthcare costs of this pandemic are inestimable. The costs of Trump’s inaction will still be felt decades after 2020.
If that’s not frightening enough, Yahoo News relays a new study from the U.K. that confirms earlier concerns that immunity from COVID-19 may not be for a lifetime. Or even for a year. While the number of people who have reported being infected by the disease a second time has been low so far, that may not last. The latest results demonstrate that antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to decline months after an infection. Previous studies had demonstrated a steep short-term decline, and now it seems that rapid drop persists.
Where previous studies suggested that those who were asymptomatic or had very light cases of COVID-19 in their first exposure might be vulnerable to secondary infection within a few months, the new information shows that those with more serious cases may not have lasting immunity. Even among people whose systems mounted strong reactions to COVID-19, the level of antibodies dropped within a few months toward levels barely detectable by standard tests.
This does not necessarily mean that these past sufferers are again susceptible to COVID-19. For one thing, there are a number of different elements to the human body’s immune response, and the key to fighting off COVID-19 may be encoded in a feature that is less easily measured than the level of free antibodies. Also, it remains unclear what level of antibody response is required to generate practical levels of immunity. In any case, the fact that large numbers of reinfection have not yet been demonstrated in Italy, South Korea, or other nations hit hard in the early phases of the disease outside China is a good indicator that while COVID-19 protection may not be forever, it at least lasts for several months.
All of this plays into the results that drug manufacturers must seek in looking for an effective vaccine. COVID-19 shots may, out of necessity, become an annual event even if the virus does not mutate significantly. But if a vaccine provides protection for less than a year, its use in the real world is likely to be significantly limited.
On the vaccine front, there is some good news: AstraZeneca has been given the go-ahead to resume their testing of the vaccine developed at Oxford University within the United States. Recruitment for new volunteers in the U.S. is expected to begin within a week. And outside the United States, first results from the vaccine are now becoming available from the multinational phase 3 trial. Those results indicate that the vaccine does trigger a good level of immune reaction in both older and younger trial participants. It’s also reported to trigger few adverse symptoms among older patients.
While a vaccine is not “just a few weeks away,” as Trump has been saying since March, the first results giving an indication of the effectiveness of vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna could come as soon as the end of next month. Those results will need to be analyzed, but if those results look good, early distribution of the vaccine could actually begin around the first of the year.
It’s still likely to be mid-2021 before everyone who wants to get a COVID-19 shot can get one. But we might reach a point even before that where the availability of both vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments is sufficient to finally crush this pandemic.
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