Of the recorded global covid deaths 5.3 million lives were lost worldwide.

808,000 were from the United States,  according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. One in every 6 deaths recorded as Covid related and one in 5 of all Covid cases in the world were American. Of the 270 million cases worldwide, 50 million are in the US. More Americans have died in this pandemic than in all the wars over the last 120 years including the two world wars.

“Of those who have survived, they are not out of the woods as we don’t know the long term consequences of this disease. They suffer from persistent health issues,” said Dr. Nguyen, the Stephen J. McPhee, MD Endowed Chair in General Internal Medicine and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on December 17th. 

Omicron variant has surged around the world

First identified in Botswana and South Africa in November, the Omicron variant has surged around the world. “We are at 120,000 new cases, a 40% increase over the prior two weeks and 68,000 hospitalizations per week. This is an increase of 21 percent but half of what we faced last December,” he said. The healthcare system is overwhelmed.

“We are in for the fight of our lives with Omicron but keep calm and see this thing through because we have the tools to be able to solve this,” said Dr. Ben Neuman, Chief Virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University. Vaccines and masks definitely work. 

About 61.5% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Though there are disparities by race, the black and latino populations are least likely to be vaccinated but the gap has reduced as whites have plateaued and black and latinos have caught up. Vaccination rates in the age group 65 and older, which account for three quarters of the deaths, is 87 % .Nearly half of this group has received their booster shot,” he said. 

Omicron has split and is now considered as 4 sub lineages and they are spreading. The virus doesn’t seem to grow any less faster or slower than the Delta variant. Several papers show when there is a higher viral load in the lungs there is a greater chance of symptoms, hospitalizations and death. So it is not milder than Delta. Do not underestimate Omicron, suggested Dr Neuman. “The good news is that quantity can trump specificity in terms of our immune response.The vaccination along with a booster will provide protection but we should remain vigilant.”

“False sense of security is partly behind what we see happening around the world. People are finding out that prior infection or vaccination is not enough of a shield to protect them.The term “fully vaccinated” is dangerous to use.We don’t know what full vaccination looks like,”said Dr. Ben Neuman.

Dr. Roshni Mathews Stanford Children’s Health
Dr. Roshni Mathews Stanford Children’s Health

Of all the covid infections in the US 23 % are pediatric

Children less than 18 years of age make up 1% of the 7 million pediatric covid cases that have required hospitalizations and there have been 660 pediatric deaths in the US.  “The pediatric  curve for prevalence of covid has generally mirrored the curve for adults. However there has been a recent increase in pediatric cases, compared to earlier in the pandemic. That may be because of the early vaccine approval for adults,” said Dr. Roshni Mathews Stanford Children’s Health. Pediatric hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid remain rare.

The Pfizer vaccine is approved for 12-17 year olds, and 5-11year olds . For ages 2-4 year olds and 6 months to 2 year olds, enrollments and trials are currently underway. Booster shots are available for everyone over 16 years of age, 6 months after the MRNA vaccine. CDC strongly recommends everyone who qualifies must get the booster. “We now have real world experience of the impact of vaccines and we know it is safe. Safety monitoring processes have been in place and are in place and any signal of adverse effects is quickly picked up.” 

Dr. Roshni Mathews has treated children severely ill and hospitalized with acute Covid and complications from Covid like multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. It is a delayed response to the covid infection or shows up two to three weeks after exposure to someone infected with the virus . MIS-C seems to infect older children and presents severe abdominal symptoms that require intensive care hospitalization. 

“Influenza is 100 years old and we still don’t have a magic pill for it. We have learnt a lot and we put together treatments to manage patients and we look at new information as it becomes available and update our treatment. Community pediatricians are given algorithms they could use to diagnose  MIS-C. Every child with fever can’t be sent to the emergency room but yet we don’t want a patient with  MIS-C not to get the right treatment,” said Thomas Murray, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Yale School of Medicine; Associate Medical Director, Infection Prevention, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. 

“Please make sure to remain up to date on routine immunization and if your child is sick do not delay care,” he said.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

Photo by Govind Krishnan on Unsplash

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. She won the 2023 Ethnic Media Services award for outstanding international reporting;...