A year ago at Thanksgiving, the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine was still two weeks away. This Thanksgiving, we have three vaccines on hand (and in arms) in the U.S., plus eight vaccines approved globally by the World Health Organization. Every American 5 years of age and older is now vaccine-eligible, and every adult can get a booster shot.
Thus at Thanksgiving 2021, we give thanks for countable blessings:
More than 230 million people ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. That represents:
• 69.5% of the country’s entire population.
• 74% of everyone 5 and older.
• 80% of everyone 12 and older.
• 82% of adults.
• And (drum roll) 99.9% of seniors 65+.
Want more positive numbers?
• 196 million people are fully vaccinated (69% of everyone 12 and older, 71% of adults and 86% of seniors).
• 36.6 million people have received a COVID-19 booster, 1 in 5 adults and 41% of seniors.
Those booster numbers will get a – wait for it – boost now that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have opened the doors for all adults, with a sense of urgency for people 50 and older.
The CDC added this holiday message: “CDC continues to encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves, their families, loved ones and communities. We also strongly encourage those who were already eligible – older populations and individuals with underlying medical conditions – to get boosted before the holidays.”
Underscoring the timeliness of that message is the fact that we are out and about once more. 2.2 million travelers went through TSA security checkpoints at U.S. airports last Friday and another 2.2 million followed on Sunday and Tuesday. They are the busiest days of travel since the pandemic began – and twice the levels of a year ago.
This Thanksgiving will see us take a step toward normal family gatherings (allowing for the possibility that family gatherings can ever truly be normal) with more in the room and fewer on Zoom. According to a Monmouth University Poll, just 26% of Americans plan to spend Thanksgiving alone or with their immediate household, down from 45% in 2020. Two-thirds of us will spend the holiday with either the same number of people we did before the pandemic or (gulp) even more.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has dispensed practical pandemic advice on Sunday news shows so often that he could start an Uncle Tony spinoff, says it’s okay to gather maskless with vaccinated family but to mask up while traveling or when around people whose vaccination status is in question.
As far as boosters are concerned, Dr. Fauci says go get ‘em. My daughter received her “Fauci Ouchie” booster in California on Sunday, next to a cardboard cutout of the good doctor himself.
In another return to the familiar, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is back for its 95th trip through Manhattan, once again with spectators in the streets. They don’t need to show proof of vaccination, but parade participants do. Proof of vaccination is also the ticket to today’s Balloon Inflation Celebration—at least one type of inflation that people can readily accept (gasoline now being $3.35 a gallon at the corner station here in North Jersey).
Globally, a decidedly different storyline is playing out. COVID-19 vaccination rates in low-income countries remain in the single digits, while efforts to improve supply and smooth the distribution pathway are playing a frustrating game of catch-up.
The communications effort
• Three young people in their 20s who are suffering from long COVID are telling their painful stories in a new set of PSAs. The campaign is the work of Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit led by former CDC director Tom Frieden. The group is working with public health officials in states with low COVID-19 vaccination rates in an effort to reach a demographic that has not shown great enthusiasm for the shot.
• As many as 15 million people in the U.S. may eventually suffer from long-haul COVID, Dr. Nicole Bundy, a rheumatologist, writes in Infectious Disease Advisor. She notes that it has the potential to become “the next national health disaster.”
• If young men won’t get the shot for any other reason, perhaps they’ll do it to preserve and protect their sex lives. As Eric Berger reports in PRWeek, that’s the upright thinking behind an ad featuring “Saturday Night Live” alum Tim Meadows, who at age 60 is shocked to learn that men with COVID-19 are six times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction. The spot, created by the agency Quality Meats (we are not making this up) describes getting vaccinated today as a solid investment in getting it up tomorrow.
• Baltimore’s health department is turning to vaccine ambassadors – not celebrities or high-profile officials but students, retirees and others – to carry the COVID-19 vaccination message to the community in one-on-one conversations. As the Baltimore Sun reports, the city has hired 88 ambassadors who work 15 hours a week for $20 an hour.
• Baltimore expects the costs of the ambassador program to be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The administration has extended FEMA reimbursement for COVID emergency response, including vaccination clinics and public education campaigns, through April 1.
• The Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has developed a series of videos sharing “Perspectives on COVID-19 Vaccine and Kids.”
Getting it done
• 10% of kids ages 5 to 11 got their COVID-19 vaccinations in the first two weeks of eligibility, the White House reported. This initial rush to the head of the class may taper off if earlier patterns in both adults and adolescents are any indication.
• So why not make vaccination an event? In California, the children’s vaccination center in the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Expo Hall has been transformed into a colorful jungle with games, scavenger hunts and other activities “to keep kids occupied before and after their shots.”
• The White House also noted this week that 90% of the federal government’s 3.5 million workers have responded to a mandate and received at least one COVID-19 shot; another 5% are applying for exemptions or extensions. Compliance is at 98% for the IRS and 99% for the FBI.
• In Campaign, Sabrina Sanchez highlights 10 communications and creative agencies that grant employees time off to get their children or other loved ones vaccinated.
• What used to be an empty toolbox for preventing and treating COVID-19 is filling up with vaccines, antibody injections and, soon, pills. Monoclonal antibodies excel in treating breakthrough infections, Alicia Lasek reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. They reduced the risk of hospitalization by 77% in a Mayo Clinic study.
• The federal government has lifted most restrictions on visits to nursing homes, Kimberly Marselas, Danielle Brown and Alicia Lasek report in McKnight’s LTC News, a 180 from the advice at Thanksgiving 2020. That’s a welcome development for lonely residents and eager visitors, but also a signal to nursing home operators to remain vigilant with infection control.
• At last count, 1,142 colleges and universities had a COVID-19 vaccination mandate of some kind, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
• In the Los Angeles Unified School District, 80% of 225,000 students age 12 and older have satisfied a vaccination mandate. The other 20%, some 44,000 students, won’t qualify for in-person classes when the second semester begins in January unless they roll up their sleeves.
Searching for clarity
• The definition of “fully vaccinated” is likely to change as boosters proliferate. Connecticut and New Mexico are already discussing next moves, Axios reports.
• Florida long-term care operators are caught between a rock (federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates for healthcare workers) and a hard place (newly passed state laws curbing mandates and allowing more exemptions). Danielle Brown has details in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Meanwhile, Brown notes, a U.S. district judge in Florida has denied an injunction to block the federal healthcare mandate.
• Disney World, similarly squeezed in Orange County, is putting its own vaccination mandate for employees on hold until the dust (certainly not magic dust) settles.
• OSHA has suspended enforcement of its vaccination-and-testing regulation pending litigation outcomes, but the Biden administration is asking the courts to reinstate it. Lois A. Bowers and Kimberly Bonvissuto provide perspective in McKnight’s Senior Living. There remains all kinds of dust to settle here.
• As far as returning to the office is concerned, 58% of those surveyed by PRWeek and Campaign say they want a non-mandated hybrid model, Sabrina Sanchez reports. That means allowing access to the workplace without forcing people to come in on a set schedule. Twelve percent favored a mandated hybrid approach, while 26% wanted full-time remote; only 4% voted for in-person all the time.
• PRWeek’s Steve Barrett says the workplace mandate genie is out of the bottle and employers must learn to be flexible. “After a few months of trialing back-to-the-office policies and hybrid arrangements the people have spoken – and it’s time to use that knowledge to build a sustainable future workplace.”
The vaccine dashboard
• The Biden administration is investing billions to increase manufacturing capacity of mRNA vaccines, Lecia Bushak reports in MM+M. Short-range goals: Increasing access to COVID-19 vaccine globally and vaccinating 70% of the world by September 2022. Long-range goals: Readying ourselves for the next pandemic and having vaccines available six to nine months after a pathogen is identified.
• The Australian Open, the first 2022 tennis Grand Slam event (scheduled for January 17-30), will require all players to be vaccinated.
• In Austria (not to be confused with Australia), everyone, not just tennis players, must get vaccinated come February. In the meantime, a nationwide lockdown of up to 20 days began on Monday.
• Protests against government-imposed COVID restrictions are flaring in Austria and several other European countries.
• Santas are in short supply, according to Mitch Allen, co-founder of HireSanta.com. Allen delivered the distressing news that 700 Santas had died in the past year, 300 to 500 of them from COVID-19.
• Every 10 years the U.S. Census Bureau recalculates the population center of the country. This decade’s center sits about 15 miles from Hartville, Missouri (population 594), site of a Civil War battle in 1863. The point has moved steadily westward and southward since 1790, when it was 23 miles east of Baltimore.
• Nobody asked us, but… who knew that rubbing elbows would come to mean, literally, rubbing elbows?
In The Atlantic, Pulitzer Prize-winner Ed Yong explores why nearly one in five healthcare workers have quit since the pandemic began. “It’s like it takes a piece of you every time you walk in,” said a nurse practitioner in Virginia who walked away from her ICU job after watching her grandmother die last December.
Hope is on the horizon, but not without a sober reality check. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci writes in The New York Times that, while the worst of the pandemic may be over after this winter, it has “proved to be a nearly two-year stress test that the United States flunked.”
What we need now, she says, is a new public spirit to ensure that the next pandemic won’t be as disastrous as this one. Tufekci finds that spirit lacking today: “Not even a rate of 1,000 deaths a day has been enough to motivate all eligible people in high transmission areas to get vaccinated and stop arguing over simple courtesies like wearing a mask indoors in public places,” she notes.
Amid the myriad challenges of the pandemic, it is possible and even necessary to find hope and express gratitude. The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association have teamed up on an ad campaign to thank healthcare workers for… well, everything. We join them.
…and some songs
We leave you with two pre-Thanksgiving quotes:
• “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes your way.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
• “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” – Oscar Wilde
Happy Thanksgiving! May it be safe, healthy and richly blessed. We are thankful for you.