COVID-19 is bad, vaccines are coming, and Trump is angry … about the vaccines

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On Thursday, the number of new cases of COVID-19 exceeded 190,000 for the first time. Barring several states simply refusing to report, it’s all but certain that on Friday the United States will go over 200,000 new cases. Thursday also saw the first day in which over 2,000 Americans died from COVID-19 in a single day since the first week of May. So the nation has now reached an unmatched number of cases and returned to the high fatality counts of the first surge.

But even though the current outbreak is wide based and resistant to action by any single state government, the spike in cases is anything but even.

A) States that have have imposed fewer restrictions have many more cases of COVID-19.

B) States that are high consumers of right-wing media have many more cases of COVID-19.

Unsurprisingly, A = B.  And nowhere is that more true than in the Midwest.

As before, the rate of cases in several Midwestern and plains states continues to amaze. North Dakota has now shouldered its way into the top ten states for deaths by population, displacing states that were overrun in the first wave, when no one had a clue how to handle this disease. One out of every 1,000 residents of North Dakota has now died from COVID-19. Over 9% of the state has tested positive. South Dakota is not far behind with 8% of the state having tested positive, and 1 out of 1,200 dead.

The rival Dakotas also seem be battling for just who can be worst at testing, with North Dakota reaching 66% positive today while its southern neighbor hits 58%. Of course, on this category neither can really match the “what the hell’s a test?” attitude of adjacent Wyoming, which has managed to keep its positive rate above 80% for a solid week. That’s a number that’s hard to hit, even if all the testing is done at the morgue.

Though the smaller population of these states often keeps them from the top of charts on the evening news, the rate of infection in these areas is genuinely incredible. When broken out as a nation of its own, the Midwest “beats” the world in awful. The infection rate exceeds that of any nation, on any continent, regardless of income level.

These numbers keep getting worse. On Friday, Michigan exceeded 10,000 new cases for the first time. It was just one over two dozen states that reached new highs this week, and in almost all of them, there was a stark, simple line to explain why some areas are so bad.

Back in May, NPR reported that viewers of Tucker Carlson were seeing more cases of COVID-19 after the Fox host repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the disease on his show. In October, CNN reported on a second study showing that not only were red state governors making less use of mandates and restrictions, Fox News viewers in general were less likely to take precautions against COVID-19 because of the network’s relentless attempts to paint the outbreak as a overblown. Shortly after the election, another NPR analysis showed that Trump was strongest in areas where COVID-19 was highest. Earlier this week, The New York Times and University of Oxford collaborated on a study to show just how strongly weak restrictions matched with increasing cases and worse outcomes. Unsurprisingly, that correlation was very strong.

The numbers are absolutely irrefutable: Republicans who put their faith in Trump and right-wing media are becoming martyrs to their belief at rates that greatly exceed more cautious Americans in other areas. Trump may not be personally snuffing out lives on 5th Avenue, but he is killing people with every false word that comes from his mouth.

Speaking of which, Trump interrupted his complaints about the election on Friday to complain about … good vaccine news. That’s right. Trump specifically complained because Pfizer reported that their vaccine would be effective.

It almost goes without saying that Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and others have reporting intervals built into their Phase 3 applications. In the case of both Pfizer and Moderna, those intervals are defined by a set number of cases of COVID-19 being diagnosed among their pool of volunteers (which is why those volunteers considered too cautious about catching COVID-19 weren’t allowed into the study). Pfizer hit its first reporting interval on the weekend following the election, and hit its endpoint on Wednesday. Pfizer literally reported its results on the first day it had results. Trump’s accusations that the company held back on the announcement are, of course, a lie.

Moderna is tracking just behind its larger rival by just a few days. AstraZeneca can be expected to report around the end of the month. Johnson & Johnson may not report first results until after the first of the year, because even though their vaccine uses a single dose, they were about a quarter behind the others reaching Phase 3.

But while Trump is complaining, Pfizer and partner BioNTech are applying to the FDA for an Emergency Use Authorization. Pfizer’s application rates the final efficacy rate at 95%, reports no serious safety issues across 38,000 patients from ages 12 to 85.

Pfizer has already been manufacturing doses of the vaccine, and expects to have 50 million doses by the end of the year, with smaller numbers available almost immediately should the FDA grant the requested EUA. Approximately 25 million doses could be available within the United States for healthcare workers and those at greatest risk some time in December. However, since each person needs two doses, that’s actually 12.5 million patients. Pfizer expects to manufacture over a billion doses in 2021.

If Moderna continues along the track they were following in their first report, it would not be surprising to see that company announcing a similar end to their Phase 3 trial next week. AstraZeneca’s trial was somewhat delayed over concerns of a possible safety issue, but U.K. researchers feel that incident was actually unrelated to the vaccine. AstraZeneca should be expected to reach their first reporting target in the next two weeks.

With all these vaccines becoming available in 2021, it seems like Americans will have several reasons to celebrate early in 2021 … say, sometime close to January 20.

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