Coronavirus briefing: Omicron’s death toll

In the early stages of Omicron’s push, US health officials looked at how other countries were weathering the new variant’s worst effects and were reassured. But as the Omicron wave begins to subside, we’re getting a fuller picture of how the United States fared in the last wave — and the data is sobering.

Compared to other rich countries, the coronavirus in the United States is killing people at much higher rates. Since December 1, when the first case of Omicron was detected in the United States, the share of Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus has been at least 63% higher than in any other major wealthy country. , according to a Times analysis of mortality. The figures.

In recent months, the United States has overtaken Britain and Belgium to have, among rich countries, the largest share of its population to have died from Covid during the entire pandemic.

Hospital admissions in the United States have also reached much higher rates than in Western Europe, leaving some states struggling to provide care. Americans are now dying from Covid at nearly double the daily rate of Britons and four times the rate of Germans.

The only major European countries to top US Covid death rates this winter were Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, poorer nations where the best Covid treatments are relatively scarce.

One of the main reasons for this discrepancy is the vaccination rate in the United States. Despite having one of the most potent vaccine arsenals in the world, the country has failed to vaccinate as many people as other major wealthy nations.

The United States has fallen further behind in administering booster shots.

Importantly, vaccination rates among the elderly also lag behind some European countries. Twelve percent of Americans age 65 and older haven’t been fully vaccinated, according to CDC statistics. And 43% of people aged 65 and over did not receive a reminder.

In England, on the other hand, only 4% of people aged 65 and over have not been fully vaccinated and only 9% have not received a booster. Many Americans also have health conditions like obesity and diabetes that increase the risk of severe Covid.

Vaccination and booster campaigns in Western Europe resulted in much more manageable waves. Deaths in Britain, for example, are a fifth of last winter’s peak and hospital admissions are about half as high.

Scientists said some deaths could still be prevented by taking precautions, like testing and wearing masks, around older, more vulnerable Americans.

Some lawmakers, health officials and experts are desperate to turn the page on the pandemic – calling for a return to normalcy, especially as we look beyond Omicron. But the toll of future waves will depend on what other variants emerge, the scientists said, as well as what level of mortality Americans find tolerable.

“We have normalized a very high death toll in the United States,” said Anne Sosin, who studies health equity at Dartmouth. “If we want to declare the end of the pandemic right now, what we’re doing is normalizing a very high death rate.”

Vaccines given by injection produce strong and long-lasting immunity against serious diseases. But a potential downside is that their protection against infection is temporary, especially as the virus evolves. That’s why some experts talk about the need for regular reminders.

So is there a better way?

Yes, my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reported from India, where she looked into Bharat Biotech’s experimental nasal vaccine.

Nasal vaccines may be the best way to prevent long-term infections because they provide protection exactly where it’s needed to ward off the virus: the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, where the coronavirus first takes hold.

But that’s not all. Nasal or oral vaccines can immunize entire populations faster than injections, which require skill and time to administer. They are also more palatable to many, including children, than painful pricks, and would prevent shortages of needles and other materials.

As we learned with Omicron, even three doses of a vaccine may not prevent infection. Indeed, injected vaccines produce antibodies in the blood, relatively few of which reach the nose, the entry point for the virus. This is not the case with mucosal vaccines, which instead coat the mucous surfaces of the nose, mouth, and throat with long-lasting antibodies.

“It’s essentially the difference between planting sentries at the gates to keep intruders out and trying to drive them out after they’ve already stormed the castle,” Apoorva wrote.

We are fully vaccinated and have the booster. We have done our patriotic duty to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community. After two years of the pandemic, we have now decided not to live our lives focusing on the impact the unvaccinated will have on us and instead we live our lives without fear of catching Covid. We used to have sympathy for the unvaccinated death of Covid, but now we just see it as the consequence of poor judgment. With the vaccine and the booster, we know we can safely get back to “normal”.

— Tina Mills, Murrieta, California.

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