Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — October 6, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

376. “Merck says it has the first antiviral pill found to be effective against Covid.”

         Q:  Is it true there’s a pill out now that can cure Covid-19?

         A:   The headlines loudly proclaimed the “first antiviral pill found to be effective against Covid.”  This took place even before Merck, the pharmaceutical company that developed the drug, has even submitted their data to the scientists at the FDA to begin the process for gaining authorization for its use.  One of the reasons drug companies declare their products effective “by press release” is to create demand for their products, even if they can’t yet be used, even before the unbiased FDA scientists have had the chance to determine their risks and effectiveness.  This new drug gets its name from Norwegian folklore.  Thor was the god associated with storms and thunder and was seen as a protector of humanity.  He is known for carrying a potent weapon – symbol of his mighty power – a war hammer.  In the old-Norse language, this hammer was known as the Mjolnir.  One can sense the marketing discussions behind naming this new pharmaceutical “mulnupiravir” even if it is difficult to pronounce.  Strength.  Protector of mankind.  And, it is worth noting, several other companies are well along in developing and conducting clinical trials of similar oral drugs that can reduce the disease’s ability to become life-threatening.  Hence the need to publicize it early, before the others have the chance.

In Merck’s reports on the initial clinical trial, 775 people in America and overseas had volunteered who were recently infected with Covid-19.  They were divided into two groups.  Half was given the mulnupiravir, and the other half was given a placebo.  Seven percent in the treatment group were hospitalized, but none died.  So, it isn’t “ a cure.”  In the placebo group, there were 8 deaths.  The clinical trial was stopped early because the benefits to those being treated were so significant, it was deemed unethical to deny those in the placebo group its benefits.

The drug was designed to stop the coronavirus from replicating in the infected host by inserting errors in its genetic code. When approved, physicians can prescribe this drug and patients can pick it up at the local drugstore.  The proposed dosage would be taking 4 capsules twice a day for five days. The cost is expected to be $700 per patient.   In anticipation of final approval, the federal government has contracted to purchase 1.7 million courses of therapy to make this drug available   Because it has not yet applied for authority to distribute and use this drug, it is estimated it won’t be available for sick patients until the end of this year – if not later.

377. California mandates vaccinations for all school staff and children statewide.

         Q: Is the decision to require vaccinations in schools always left to local officials?

         A:  Governor Gavin Newsom of California said last Friday that the state would phase in a statewide requirement that all staff including teachers, paraprofessionals, and bus drivers, and all students in all schools must be vaccinated.  Recognizing that vaccinations have yet to be approved for students ages 5 to 12, the state will phase in its mandate for the start of the next school term (January 1 or July 1).  Other states and districts including Washington State, Oregon, and New York City have announced similar rules, but California is the first to create a state-wide mandate for Covid vaccinations.

378. America’s death rate leads all other countries with ample supplies of vaccine.

         Q:  Is our death rate higher or lower than in other countries?

         A:  Last week on Friday, the U.S. reached a total of 700,000 deaths from Covid-19.  Other countries have exceeded this number of deaths.  But when measuring the number of deaths per 100,000 of their citizens, America has the highest death rate.  This is seen to be the result of two factors: the emergence of the more infectious Delta variant last spring, and the politicization of vaccination making large numbers of people in the U.S. unwilling to be vaccinated.   An overwhelming number of U.S. deaths in the last few months have been unvaccinated people, in spite of an abundance of vaccine doses being available at no cost throughout the country.  Out of every 100,000 people who died of Covid since last June, only an estimated 2,900 people were vaccinated. The Covid-19 pandemic has now killed more Americans than died in the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 (about 6675,000 people).   Most of the deaths in the last three-and-half months were concentrated in the south in states with low vaccination rates.

379. Summer sleep-over camps this summer were mostly free of Covid-19.

         Q:  How many summer camps had to close because of COVID this past summer?

         A:  The CDC released a report on camping this past Friday.  It reported that camps that maintained a high vaccination rate for staff and eligible children and did continuous testing for everyone largely stamped out the spread of coronavirus this summer.  But the CDC continued that those summer camps in the less vaccinated Southern states and in the Mountain West that failed to mandate shots for staff or require masks for indoor gatherings remained vulnerable to outbreaks.

Two studies were used by the CDC to contrast the effectiveness of different mitigation levels.  One study looked at 9 camps that mandated vaccines and mask-wearing indoors, A total of 93% of the eligible campers and staff had received their shots.  Only 9 Covid cases were found among the 7,000 campers and staff.  Several of these cases were related to staff visiting sites away from camp on their days off.  The second study examined outbreaks at 28 camps in Louisiana.  Half were sleep-over and half-day camps.  Of all the camps, only one camp mandated vaccinations and one required masks to be worn indoors.  On average, each of these outbreaks involved 12 cases, all attributed to the Delta variant.  Of the 135 infected campers eligible to be vaccinated, 133 had not taken their shots.  All the staff members who became sick had not been vaccinated.

380. Broadway opens its theaters, and then Covid surfaced.

         Q:  We were disappointed when a reopened Broadway production was canceled.  What is going on?

         A.  Last week, several Broadway plays and productions opened in New York City.  All actors, crew members, as well as audiences, are required to be fully vaccinated, and be tested.  One show, Disney’s production of Aladdin, illustrates the complexity of managing risk on Broadway during this pandemic.  Aladdin’s last show was in March 2020.  Rehearsals and planning for a reopening started early.  Its first show in the New Amsterdam Theater opened last week Tuesday.  After that show, several people tested positive for Covid-19.  All those who tested positive had been previously vaccinated and these new cases were “breakthrough” illnesses.  An epidemiologist who was working on the show ordered the show closed after a single day of reopening.  This will allow those testing positive to remain in isolation for the minimum 12 days.  Its second performance is scheduled for October 12.  Disney said it was refunding purchased tickets.

Some other productions have had cast and crew members testing positive, but by using understudies and substitute crew members have been able to maintain continuous performances.

The Broadway League announced last Friday an extension of their vaccine and masking requirements through the end of 2021.  This will apply to all 41 Broadway theaters.  Patrons over the age of 12 must be vaccinated, while testing is required for those 12 and under, and all attendees must wear masks.