To this writer, Sunday felt a little bit like Groundhog Day in autumn.
On CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Dr. Anthony Fauci — the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, America’s COVID guru and arguably the most powerful unelected, unconfirmed bureaucrat in recent U.S. history — informed Americans it was “just too soon to tell” whether we’d be able to have Christmas gatherings.
This answer to a question posed by host Margaret Brennan was vaguely reminiscent of one Fauci gave last November when he was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether Christmas gatherings would be out of the question.
“Yes, I’m — well, I think that, if we get most of the country vaccinated in the second, third quarter of the year, and the vaccine continues to prove its efficacy, and people adhere to those fundamental measures, I think we can start approaching the degree — it’s not going to be a light switch, Jake.”
A year has passed, vast strides have been made against the coronavirus — both in vaccinations and treatment therapies. Deaths are way down. But Fauci’s fundamental position, and that of other lockdown-and-social distancing czars, doesn’t seem to have changed: Keeping Americans locked down, masked and socially distanced is still the only option.
Insert your own “15 days to flatten the curve” joke here.
To the Fauci crowd, the end of this all is somewhere in the middle distance. Next January. Maybe May. When 70 percent of adults are vaccinated. Make that 85. Or 98 percent, if you’re President Joe Biden. We can all get our lives back if we do what they say for just a little longer. Just a little while longer.
According to the author of one paper, however, all the lockdowns have potentially been for naught.
In a peer-reviewed study published Sept. 29 by the International Journal of the Economics of Business, Douglas W. Allen, an economics professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, argued that: “It is possible that lockdown will go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in modern history.’
“An examination of over 100 Covid-19 studies reveals that many relied on false assumptions that over-estimated the benefits and under-estimated the costs of lockdown,” Allen wrote in the paper (which he originally published in April). “The most recent research has shown that lockdowns have had, at best, a marginal effect on the number of Covid-19 deaths. Generally speaking, the ineffectiveness stemmed from individual changes in behavior: either non-compliance or behavior that mimicked lockdowns.”
It didn’t matter how stringent the lockdown was, either. Why? Allen noted that much of the decision-making was based on the so-called Imperial College model or models like it. The Imperial model concluded “that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound.”
However, there were multiple problems with the model, Allen wrote.
Iceland halts Moderna jabs over heart-inflammation fears
Iceland on Friday suspended the Moderna anti-COVID vaccine, citing the slight increased risks of cardiac inflammation, going further than its Nordic neighbors which simply limited use of the jabs.
“As the supply of Pfizer vaccine is sufficient in the territory … the chief epidemiologist has decided not to use the Moderna vaccine in Iceland,” said a statement published on the website of the Health Directorate.
This decision owed to “the increased incidence of myocarditis and pericarditis after vaccination with the Moderna vaccine, as well as with vaccination using Pfizer/BioNTech,” the chief epidemiologist said in a statement.
For the past two months, Iceland has been administering an additional dose “almost exclusively” of the Moderna vaccine to Icelanders vaccinated with Janssen, a single-dose serum marketed by America’s Johnson & Johnson, as well as to elderly and immunocompromised people who received two doses of another vaccine.
This will not affect the vaccination campaign in the island of 370,000 inhabitants, where 88 percent of the population over 12 years old is already fully vaccinated.
Since Thursday, Sweden and Finland have also suspended the use of the Moderna vaccine but only for those under 30, because of a risk of inflammation of the myocardium, the heart muscle, and the pericardium, the membrane covering the heart.
More Than Half Million Healthcare Workers Quit Jobs In August
More than half a million healthcare workers quit their jobs in August amid a surge of Delta variant COVID-19 cases, according to a report from the Labor Department.
In a job openings and labor turnover survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Tuesday, data showed that in August the number of people who quit increased to 4.3 million — the highest on record since December 2000.
About 534,000 healthcare workers quit their jobs in August, up from about 404,000 during the same month in 2020.
The numbers suggest healthcare workers handed in their resignations in droves — fueling ongoing concerns of staffing shortages — as the highly contagious Delta variant caused COVID-19 hospitalizations to soar across the U.S. over the summer, Newsweek reported.
The number of people who quit also rose the most in the South and Midwest, the government said, the two regions with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in August, ABC News reported.
About 892,000 people quit their jobs in hotels, bars, and restaurants, up about 21% from July and almost twice as many as in August 2020. About 721,000 Americans quit retail jobs.
On Friday, the government said job gains were weak for a second straight month in September, with only 194,000 jobs added, though the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%. Friday’s hiring figure is a net total, after quits, retirements, and layoffs are taken into account, ABC News reported.
Tuesday’s report showed hiring slowed in August, while the number of jobs available fell to 10.4 million, from a record high of 11.1 million in July. The largest decreases in job openings included healthcare and social assistance, the figures showed.
The data is not likely to have picked up the impact of vaccine mandates, Newsweek noted.
FDA Authorizes First E-Cigarette, Cites Benefit For Smokers
For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized an electronic cigarette, saying the vaping device from R.J. Reynolds can help smokers cut back on conventional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have been sold in the U.S. for more than a decade with minimal government oversight or research. Facing a court deadline, the FDA has been conducting a sweeping review of vaping products to determine which ones should be allowed to remain on the market.
The agency said in September it had rejected applications for more than a million e-cigarettes and related products, mainly due to their potential appeal to underage teens. But regulators delayed making decisions on most of the major vaping companies, including market leader Juul, which is still pending.
Tuesday’s decision only applies to Vuse’s Solo e-cigarette and its tobacco-flavored nicotine cartridges. The agency said data from the company showed the e-cigarette helped smokers significantly reduce their exposure to the harmful chemicals in traditional cigarettes.
While the products can now be legally sold in the U.S., the FDA stressed they are neither safe nor “FDA approved,” and that people who don’t smoke shouldn’t use them.
Launched in 2013, Vuse Solo is a rechargeable metallic device that’s shaped like a traditional cigarette. The FDA said it rejected 10 other requests from the company for other flavored products. The agency is still reviewing the company’s request to sell a menthol-flavored nicotine formula.
“Today’s authorizations are an important step toward ensuring all new tobacco products undergo the FDA’s robust, scientific premarket evaluation,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s tobacco center, in a statement.
“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products – either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption.”
E-cigarettes first appeared in the U.S. around 2007 with the promise of providing smokers with a less harmful alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. The devices heat a nicotine solution into a vapor that’s inhaled.
But there has been little rigorous study of whether e-cigarettes truly help smokers quit. And efforts by the FDA to begin vetting vaping products and their claims were repeatedly slowed by industry lobbying and competing political interests.
In recent years, the vaping market grew to include hundreds of companies selling an array of devices and nicotine solutions in various flavors and strengths. But the vast majority of the market is controlled by a few companies including Juul Labs, which is partially owned by Altria, and Vuse.
Vuse is the No. 2 vaping brand in the U.S. behind Juul, accounting for about a third of all retail sales. Its parent company R.J. Reynolds sells Newport, Camel and other leading cigarettes.
A company spokesperson said in a statement that the FDA decision confirms “that Vuse Solo products are appropriate for the protection of the public health, underscoring years of scientific study and research.”
The company said it is still awaiting an FDA decision on its more popular vaping device, Vuse Alto.
To stay on the market, companies must show that their products benefit public health. In practice, that means proving that adult smokers who use the products are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teens are unlikely to get hooked on them.
Kenneth Warner, a tobacco expert at the University of Michigan’s school of public health, said the news was a positive step for reducing the harms of smoking. But he lamented that only a vaping device backed by a Big Tobacco company was able to win the FDA’s endorsement.
“The demands the FDA places on companies filing these applications are so extraordinary difficult to meet that only those with huge resources and personnel — in terms of scientists, lawyers, researchers — are able to file successfully,” said Warner.
He said smaller companies and vape shops should have a separate path to get their products authorized.
The FDA declared underage vaping an “epidemic” in 2018 and has taken a series of measures aimed at the small cartridge-based devices that first sparked the problem, including limiting their flavors to tobacco and menthol. Separately, Congress raised the purchase age for all tobacco and vaping products to 21.
Survey data collected earlier this year showed Vuse was the second-most popular e-cigarette brand among high schoolers who vape, preferred by 10%. Juul was the fourth-most popular e-cigarette, cited by less than 6%.
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