Public health experts lament that opposition to COVID-19 vaccines is killing thousands of Americans every week.
The case of a 31-year-old patient in a Boston hospital illustrates how adamant that resistance can be.
Massachusetts resident David B. Ferguson Jr., known as DJ, is in "severe end stage heart failure'' and waiting for a transplant at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital after suffering complications from a hereditary heart condition, according to a GoFundMe page set up for his medical needs.
The hospital requires transplant candidates to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as one of several conditions to improve their chances of survival, but Ferguson – a father of two with a third child on the way – "doesn’t believe in the need to be vaccinated.”
That's according to his father, David Ferguson, speaking on a video posted on the Facebook page of the organization “We The People #WeToo Movement.” The Milford (Massachusetts) Daily News reports the group, which has been protesting outside the hospital, "frequently voices opposition to mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccines.''
The elder Ferguson added that his son "needs a heart to live, and they are coercing him into making a decision that is against his will, his intellect, his judgment, his core belief.” In another video, he said the vaccine "causes things like myocarditis and blood clots and all sorts of things,'' even though instances of those side effects have been exceedingly rare.
Transplant centers in several states require recipients to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a policy supported by the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, the American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.
Brigham and Women's Hospital pointed out in a statement that about half of the 100,000-plus candidates nationwide waiting for an organ transplant won't receive one within five years.
“Given the shortage of available organs, we do everything we can to ensure that a patient who receives a transplanted organ has the greatest chance of survival,” the hospital said.
Also in the news:
►Legendary singer Neil Young got his wish to have Spotify remove his music from the streaming service over his objection to virus and vaccine misinformation spread by podcast host Joe Rogan on the online platform.
►Two members of Norway’s women’s cross-country ski squad have tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of next month’s Beijing Olympics, the team said Wednesday. It was uncertain whether Heidi Weng and Anne Kjersti Kalvå will participate in the games.
►Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-New Mexico, joined the long list of lawmakers who have announced positive COVID tests. Both described their infections as breakthrough cases.
►California showed signs of turning the corner on the omicron wave, with infection rates falling and hospitalizations well short of the overwhelming deluge officials feared a few weeks ago.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 72 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 873,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 360 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths. More than 210 million Americans — 63.5% — are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we're reading: Free masks are on the way to pharmacies. Here's when N95 masks can be picked up at stores.
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Yes, a cousin of omicron is spreading in at least four continents, and it has reached at least four states – California, Texas, Washington and New Mexico.
But no, it shouldn't be a cause for panic, scientists say.
Omicron BA.2, which could be a new variant or a sublineage of of the troublesome omicron variant – now also known as BA.1 – is expected to remain relatively mild.
"I don't think it's going to cause the degree of chaos and disruption, morbidity and mortality that BA.1 did," said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to continue to move to a better place and, hopefully, one where each new variant on the horizon isn't news."
While COVID-19 cases have begun to decline in places like Massachusetts, where omicron hit hard late last year, cases of BA.2 – sometimes referred to as "stealth omicron'' – are on the rise in the Philippines, India, Denmark and South Africa, Lemieux said.
It's not clear yet whether BA.2 is pushing out BA.1, which replaced delta as the dominant strain in the U.S. Jeremy Luban, a professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry & molecular pharmacology at UMass Medical School, said scientists still know very little about the transmissibility of BA.2 compared to BA.1.
— Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY
Interest in booster shots is waning, and just 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The average number of booster shots dispensed per day in the U.S. declined from 1 million in early December to less than half of that number last week.
Initial vaccinations also have leveled off. Less than two-thirds – 63.5% – of Americans are fully vaccinated with the initial rounds of shots, while Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi and Alabama have vaccinations rates below 50%.
And a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Americans are more likely to see those jabs – rather than a booster – as essential.
“It’s clear that the booster effort is falling short,” said Jason Schwartz, a vaccine policy expert at Yale University.
A new CDC study found that although the omicron variant has shattered COVID-19 case and hospitalization records, other factors have shown it's still less severe than other waves in the pandemic. The highly contagious variant has pushed the U.S. to break 1 million cases in a day multiple times and the pace of reported deaths is currently above 15,000 per week.
But despite omicron seeing the highest reported numbers of hospitalizations during the pandemic, the ratio of emergency department visits and hospitalizations to case numbers were actually lower compared to the COVID-19 waves from the delta variant and during winter 2020–21, the study says. Intensive care unit admission, length of stay, and in-hospital deaths were all lower during omicron, the CDC report says, likely in part due to vaccinations and booster shots.
The Kansas Senate is considering a bill making it easier for doctors to prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. The bill would also require pharmacists to fill such prescriptions, even if they believe the drugs would be dangerous for patients. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against using the drugs for COVID-19, Kansas joins Indiana, Iowa and a handful of other states considering bills to shield doctors from legal liability and board discipline for prescribing the drugs.
"This is politics, unfortunately, and not health care," said Steve Stites, the chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System. "And when politics gets involved in health care, it kind of gets a little messy."
– Jason Tidd, Topeka Capital-Journal
Contributing: Abby Patkin, The Milford Daily News; The Associated Press