India ravaged by devastating Covid-19 surge
Fires at mass cremation grounds burned day and night in cities across India this week, as the country reeled from the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak. In a single day, the Indian government reported more than 360,000 new infections, a record for any country, and some 3,300 Covid deaths. But health experts said the true counts could be up to five times higher, because overwhelmed hospitals—which are suffering shortages of beds, oxygen, and medicines—are turning so many patients away (See Best Columns: International, p.17). “I have never felt so desperate or helpless,” said Trupti Gilada, a doctor at a Mumbai hospital. With less than 10 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people having received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, President Biden this week pledged to send the country raw vaccine materials, Covid test kits, ventilators, and therapeutic drugs. Pending an FDA safety review, 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be distributed among countries battling raging outbreaks.
In the U.S., the FDA lifted its pause on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after investigating a handful of rare blood-clotting cases. Officials said the one-dose shot was safe but noted that a small minority of women of childbearing age might be at risk of developing the clots. Vaccine supply in the U.S. now exceeds demand: Some 2.7 million doses are being administered each day, down 10 percent in a week. With new U.S. cases dropping 24 percent, to 54,000 a day, the Centers for Disease Control said that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outdoors, except at crowded gatherings.
What the editorials said
There’s an “unconscionable” shortage of Covid vaccines in developing countries, said The New York Times. The U.S. and other rich nations have 16 percent of the world’s population but “53 percent of all purchased coronavirus doses.” This hoarding is self-defeating. India’s outbreak is being driven partly by a local “double mutant” strain that might be more resistant to vaccines and could undo our own inoculation efforts if it spreads abroad. The Biden administration should call on Pfizer and other firms to suspend their vaccine patents, allowing their lifesaving shots to be manufactured everywhere.
The U.S. has a different vaccine problem, said NationalReview.com: a shortage of willing recipients. About 8 percent of Americans who got a first dose of Pfizer or Moderna skipped their second dose, sometimes out of fear of that shot’s fleeting flu-like side effects. And thanks to the misguided J&J pause, only 22 percent of the unvaccinated now say they’d be willing to get the one-and-done shot. Vaccination “is our ticket out of the pandemic,” but with only 30 percent of Americans fully inoculated, we have a long way to go.
What the columnists said
If only the U.S. were more like Israel, said Noah Smith in Noahpinion.Substack.com. Covid cases plummeted there after half of the population was fully vaccinated. But we will struggle to hit that vaccination level because 21 percent of American adults say they definitely won’t get a shot—including 32 percent of Republicans—and many others are wavering. For some resisters, refusing a vaccine is “a way of exercising personal independence” after a plague year “that made us impotent in the face of forces beyond our control.”
It’s understandable that many people distrust the pronouncements of health officials, said Philip Klein in NationalReview.com. Just look at the CDC’s new mask advisory, which is “unmoored from science or reason.” We’ve known for months “that the risk of outdoor transmission of Covid was low to nonexistent.” Yet while the CDC says you now don’t need to wear a mask when “dining with friends at outdoor restaurants,” it says you still have to wear one at outdoor sporting events and concerts. This nonsensical guidance “is a joke.”
Let’s call vaccine holdouts what they really are: “free riders,” said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. They want to enjoy the positive result of other people rolling up their sleeves—“lower transmission of the virus and eventual herd protection”—without getting inoculated themselves because of “inconvenience, needle fears, and a vague sense of personal risk.” The problem is that when lots of people realize they can become free riders, “that public good is destroyed.” The return of normal life “can be achieved only when we act together.” ■