Tuesday, April 19, 2022


As I'm sure you know, yesterday a 35-year-old Trump judge who was rated as unqualified by the American Bar Association, and whose confirmation vote took place after Trump lost the 2020 election, struck down the mask mandate for planes and other forms of public transportation. There's glee on the right, and I fully expect President Trump or President DeSantis to nominent Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle to a seat on the Supreme Court. I also expect a great deal of right-wing bullying directed at those -- and I'll be one of them -- who continue to wear masks in public places, especially on flights. The mean season won't end just because the right, aided by quite a few self-identified liberals, has now won a total victory in the war on collective COVID mitigation. If there's another pandemic in our near future, we should assume that we'll be on our own from the beginning of the outbreak -- widespread caution simply won't be allowed, even at first. I wonder how many more years the long-established requirements for vaccination against childhood diseases can remain in place. We've known at least since Sandy Hook that the right doesn't care about public safety, and that right-wingers are unmoved even if people who look like themselves die of preventable causes, because the only thing that matters to them is their profound outrage at feeling inconvenienced.

So be safe out there, or as safe as our Fox-watching overlords allow us to be.

I learned about this ruling a few hours after reading a New York magazine story about the COVID antiviral drug Paxlovid. The drug was approved in late December, after some great test results:
Pfizer expected the study to last into 2022, but was able to end the trial early because the results were so spectacular. It reduced hospitalizations in those who caught COVID by 90 percent and eliminated deaths entirely. Among the thousand or so trial participants who took the drug, none died, versus seven people in the control group.

... “This anti-COVID pill has all the features of a breakthrough intervention at the time when we absolutely need it,” wrote Scripps’ Eric Topol in The Guardian.
In addition, it attacks a part of the virus that is unlikely to change as mutations occur, so it should continue to be highly effective.

But there wasn't enough to go around during the recent Omicron wave, and now an effort to connect COVID patients with the drug is floundering, in part because of inadequate publicity.
... the Biden administration last month launched a program called “Test to Treat,” under which patients with COVID symptoms can go to a participating pharmacy, get a test, and immediately receive a five-day course of Paxlovid....

Judging by a website used to track the distribution and uptake of the drug, however, not many people are taking advantage of the offer. Of the 50 or so available sites listed in Manhattan, about half showed that their stocks are apparently untouched — even as case rates in the borough have risen some 400 percent since March 1.

There’s an obvious reason for that lack of interest, says epidemiologist Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health: Not enough people know that the program exists. “We need to have some meat-and-potatoes public-health information,” he says. “Any successful test-to-treat program is dependent on accurate, complete, timely information.”
When I first read about Paxlovid, I had naive hopes of a "hot Pax summer" -- like the "hot vax summer" we hoped we'd have last year, before the Delta wave demonstrated the limits of the vaccines. I hoped eligibility for the drug would steadily expand beyond elderly and at-risk populations, the way eligibility for the vaccines steadily expanded a year ago. I hoped that a combination of vaccines and widely available antivirals, now or eventually, might really turn COVID into what the right has always said it is, merely a bad cold or flu, no big deal for most people.

That day still might come. The New York story reports on at least one case in which Paxlovid appears to have reversed long COVID. If vaccines can largely prevent death and hospitalization, and drugs can significantly reduce the likelihood of lingering COVID symptoms -- and perhaps, at long last, reduce transmission -- then I'll believe the pandemic is nothing to worry about.

I hoped, at least, that this possibility could have been the rebuttal to the anti-public-health messaging of both the right-wing and non-conservative "let 'er rip" factions. Their message has been: Look, you're vaxxed. You're boosted. You're as safe as you're ever going to be. Just stop whining and get on with your life, and don't even bother trying to stop the spread anymore. The counterargument could have been: We have other weapons that we're just beginning to deploy, and there should be more fairly soon. We don't want to live this way forever either. The right combination of vaccines and widely available, effective treatments can get us back to normal, and we're almost there.

Science might get us to that point, but the messaging war has been lost. So, again: Stay safe out there, and hope the greedy drug companies get us to a better place, because the world of politics, in which liberals are sheepish and anti-liberals are brazen and shameless, has clearly failed us.

No comments: