The Vaccine Project Newsletter: What a year! A tumultuous timeline and 10 takeaways

This week’s Haymarket Media Vaccine Project Newsletter is 2,400 words and will take you seven minutes to read.

The most ambitious mass immunization program in human history began one year ago this month.

For all the social tumult and political noise surrounding the campaign, its successes are notable. Nearly 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S., more than 8.7 billion around the world.

In the U.S., 73% of the population has received at least one dose, 61.6% is fully vaccinated (not including boosters), and 30% of those eligible for a booster have had one.

The Commonwealth Fund estimates that the COVID-19 vaccination effort in this country has saved 1.1 million lives and prevented 10.3 million hospitalizations.

And yet the pandemic surges on with newly gathered strength, refueling its toxic tank with another version of the virus. In just three weeks, the Omicron variant has leapfrogged Delta, jumping from 3% to 73% of new U.S. infections.

As we turn our calendars toward another global pandemic year, the immunization campaign has miles to go and millions of arms to reach on the planet. It’s time to take a deep breath, a look back and a look ahead.

In that spirit, we share a timeline snapshot of the year and offer 10 takeaways to carry us into what we can hope will be a better and brighter, safer and healthier 2022.

December 2020

Dec. 2: The U.K. authorizes use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Dec. 8: 90-year-old Brit Margaret Keenan receives the world’s first COVID-19 shot in a mass vaccination campaign.

Dec. 11: The Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and older.

Dec. 14: The first person to receive a COVID-19 shot in the U.S. is Sandra Lindsay, 52, director of critical care nursing at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Dec. 14: U.S. COVID-19 deaths reach 300,000; the toll had topped 100,000 in May 2020 and 200,000 in September.

Dec. 18: The FDA issues an EUA for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and older.

January 2021

Jan. 11:New daily cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. (7-day moving average) peak at 250,437.

Jan. 12: The Ad Council and COVID Collaborative announce they have raised $37 million to fund “a national communications effort to increase confidence in vaccination against COVID-19.”

Jan. 13:Daily COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. (7-day moving average) reach a high of 3,421.

Jan. 19: U.S. COVID-19 deaths reach 400,000.

Jan. 21: On President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, the White House releases a 200-page “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.”

February 2021

Feb. 7: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV in Tampa. COVID-19 protocols limit attendance to less than 25,000, which represents the smallest Super Bowl crowd ever.

Feb. 22: U.S. COVID-19 deaths reach 500,000.

Feb. 25: The Ad Council and COVID Collaborative unveil a national vaccination education campaign, with the theme “It’s Up to You”.

Feb. 27: The FDA issues an EUA for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and older.

March 2021

March 11:The first anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic.

March 23: Willie Nelson and 13 major sports leagues join the Ad Council campaign.

March 25:Rutgers becomes the first university in the U.S. to issue a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, effective with the fall semester.

March 31:Houston Methodist Hospital becomes the first hospital in the country to announce a vaccination mandate for staff.

April 2021

April 1: The Department of Health and Human Services launches “We Can Do This,” an educational campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccination, supported by a nationwide “Community Corps” of trusted local voices.

April 3: More than 4 million people in the U.S. receive a COVID-19 shot, a record. This is before boosters are available and before kids under 16 are vaccine-eligible.

April 7: On National Beer Day, brewer Samuel Adams offers to buy a beer for the first 10,000 people providing proof of COVID-19 vaccination. New Jersey and Connecticut follow up with their own shot-and-a-beer promotions.

April 8: Columbia University’s Dr. David Ho issues a fearless (and ultimately accurate) forecast: The emergence of variants will define the next phase of the pandemic. “The sooner we vaccinate everyone, the faster we will contain the viral spread and reduce the chance for new variants to emerge.”

April 13: The CDC and FDA issue a joint statement calling for a pause in the administration of the J&J vaccine pending investigation of rare reports of blood clots.

April 23: The two agencies lift the pause on the J&J vaccine, declaring it safe and effective for people 18 and older.

May 2021

May 4: President Biden sets a goal of having all adults receive one COVID-19 shot by July 4.

May 10: The FDA authorizes use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in adolescents ages 12 to 15.

May 12: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announces the first state lottery, Vax-a-Million, to offer cash incentives and college scholarships for the vaccinated. By early July, at least 14 other states follow suit.

May 13: The CDC says that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks indoors and out.

June 2021

June 2: President Biden declares June a national month of action to help usher in “a summer of freedom. A summer of joy. A summer of celebrations and get-togethers.”

June 4: Major League Baseball’s 30 teams announce a month-long initiative, “Vaccinate at the Plate,” offering fans a free ticket if they receive their COVID-19 vaccination at the ballpark.

June 15: U.S. COVID-19 deaths reach 600,000, roughly equal to the annual toll of cancer deaths.

June 20: The daily COVID-19 case count (7-day moving average) sinks to 11,567 (in December, it’s back up to 149,331).

July 2021

July 6:Delta becomes the dominant variant (51%) of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S.

July 8: The FDA and CDC issue a joint statement stressing that “Americans who are fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time.”

July 11:Daily deaths from COVID-19 (7-day moving average) drop to 214 (in December, back up to 1,188).

July 20: Delta now accounts for 83% of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S.

July 27: The CDC, reversing its earlier position, recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in communities with high or substantial transmission of COVID-19.

August 2021

Aug. 2: About a month later than planned, the U.S. reaches its goal of getting one shot into the arms of 70% of adults.

Aug. 3: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the nation’s first policy requiring proof of vaccination to access public indoor activities. Several European countries issue similar “green passes” for the vaccinated.

Aug. 6:50% of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

Aug. 6:United Airlines announces a vaccination mandate for its 67,000 employees.

Aug. 12: The FDA authorizes an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine for certain immunocompromised individuals.

Aug. 18:Pope Francis and six cardinals and archbishops from North, Central and South America add their voices to the Ad Council campaign.

Aug. 23: The FDA confers its first (and so far only) formal regulatory approval of a COVID-19 vaccine on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, brand name Comirnaty.

Aug. 24: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announces a mandatory vaccination policy across the U.S. military.

Aug. 26: The CDC issues a health alert warning about the use of the antiparasitic ivermectin to treat COVID-19, including an emphatic “neigh” to the horse formulation.

September 2021

Sept. 9: President Biden unveils a six-point “path out of the pandemic.” It includes vaccination mandates for federal workers, employees of federal contractors and healthcare workers in participating Medicare and Medicaid facilities. Also included: a vaccinate-or-test requirement for businesses with 100 or more employees.

Sept. 14: “Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “The Lion King” reopen on Broadway.

Sept. 17: At the United Nations General Assembly, the WHO calls on world leaders to push for greater vaccine equity. Ten countries, the organization notes, account for 73% of all doses administered. Many low-income countries have vaccination rates in the single digits.

Sept. 22: The FDA authorizes booster doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for seniors 65 and older,  people 18 to 64 with medical conditions that put them at high risk of severe COVID-19, and adults at high risk of severe infection based on where they work or live.   .

Sept. 30: The National School Boards Association writes to President Biden asking the government to “investigate, intercept and prevent threats and acts of violence” against those trying to ensure safe school reopening.

October 2021

Oct. 1: U.S. COVID-19 deaths reach 700,000.

Oct. 6:HHS launches a new series of vaccination PSAs, inserting a “fear factor” to dramatize the potentially devastating impact of the disease.

Oct. 18: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell dies of COVID-19 at the age of 84. Although vaccinated, he was suffering from multiple myeloma. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society described Powell’s death as “a real-life example of the elevated risk blood cancer patients face.”

Oct. 20: The FDA authorizes Moderna and J&J as well as Pfizer vaccine for boosters in selected adult populations, endorsing a mix-and-match approach

Oct. 22: After a firestorm of negative reaction, the National School Boards Association apologizes for its letter to President Biden seeking federal intervention in school conflicts, saying there was “no justification” for some of the language included.

Oct. 29: The FDA issues an EUA for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 28 million kids ages 5 to 11.

November 2021

Nov. 4: The White House announces details of vaccination requirements affecting healthcare workers and businesses. Unsurprisingly, a litigation tsunami ensues.

Nov. 6: A federal district court issues a stay on the vaccinate-or-test standards for large businesses.

Nov. 19: FDA expands its authorization of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna boosters to cover everyone 18 and older.

Nov. 24: The WHO receives the first report of the Omicron variant from South Africa.

Nov. 30: An FDA advisory committee votes 13-10 to recommend an antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 (Merck/Ridgeback’s molnupiravir). Pfizer also has a COVID-19 pill in the pipeline. FDA green lights expected soon.

Nov. 30: A federal judge in Missouri blocks the nationwide mandate for healthcare workers.

December 2021

Dec. 1: The CDC confirms the first U.S. COVID-19 case caused by the Omicron variant.

Dec. 7:60% of Americans are fully vaccinated (boosters not included).

Dec. 8: The FDA authorizes the first monoclonal antibody combination (AstraZeneca’s Evusheld) for pre-exposure prevention of COVID-19 in immunocompromised adults and children 12 and older.

Dec. 9: The FDA expands its authorization of Pfizer/BioNTech boosters to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Dec. 15: A federal appeals court unblocks the health worker mandate in some states. Confused yet?

Dec. 15: COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. surpass 800,000, the most of any country in the world, with 50 million cases reported.

Dec. 16: The CDC issues a statement recommending mRNA vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna). J&J counters.

Dec. 17: A federal appeals court reinstates the vaccinate-or-test requirement for businesses with 100 or more employees. Next stop: SCOTUS.

Dec. 17: The WHO adds a ninth vaccine to the emergency use list: Covovax, produced by the Serum Institute of India under license from U.S.-based Novavax.

Dec. 17: Development of a vaccine for kids under 5 is delayed by a finding that a third dose may be needed to generate a strong enough immune response.

Dec. 18: COVID-19 sends college students home early for winter break and dominates the professional sports scene, playing havoc with hockey, basketball and football schedules.

Parting shot: 10 key takeaways

10. We have to learn to live with this virus. It beats dying from it.

9. 2022 will be a year of reckoning for vaccination mandates. If you have a case of whiplash trying to follow the ups and downs, vax on/vax off, chutes-and-ladders pattern of court rulings, you are not alone. Look to the Supreme Court to provide clarity.

8. Achieving vaccine equity at home and around the world remains high on our to-do list. May we never tire of the WHO message that “none of us are safe until all of us are safe.”

7. When it comes to communicating, we can do much better. MM+M Editor-in-Chief Larry Dobrow laments the “messaging miasma” plaguing this pandemic: soft, shape-shifting and scattershot. The public conversation has become politicized and polarizing. We have to get past this.

6. Core messaging needn’t change. Get vaccinated. Get your booster. Mask up. Socially distance. Wash hands. Be considerate of others. They say we have the basic tools to contain the virus, so let’s use them.

5. Science still rocks. As Sara Holoubek pointed out in MM+M, mRNA technology is “the penicillin of our age.”

4. We must learn to live with uncertainty. Omicron will not be the last variant. Will there ever be an Omega? Will “Succession” ever end?

3. We keep hearing about widespread COVID fatigue. One of the biggest threats to our well-being is the loss of frontline health professionals, who are burned out and walking away “in droves.” That is the not-so-great resignation.

2.Vaccines alone are not the answer. Outmaneuvering the pandemic will require a chess master’s strategy combining prevention (vaccination, public health measures) with widespread testing (vastly underused, we belatedly recognize) and effective treatment (monoclonal antibodies, pills and more)

1. As a new year arrives, let us self-administer a daily dose of hope. Let the pandemic bring out the best in us, the civic spirit that surely lies within. Where there’s a will there’s a way. If we can summon the will, we can find the way.

Many thanks to all of you for joining us, and heartfelt thanks to Real Chemistry for its steadfast support of this newsletter throughout the year.

…and a song for the road

Yo-Yo Ma, Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude

“Culture - the way we express ourselves and understand each other - can bind us together as one world.” - Yo-Yo Ma

Until the next time. Hasta luego. Happy holidays! Stay well.

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