New COVID-19 Strain and Bungled Vaccine Rollout Threaten the 'Return to Normal' in 2021
Plus: Josh Hawley rejects reality (again), Florida's still trying to bust Robert Kraft for getting a hand job, distilleries' good deeds get punished, and more...
2020 is finally drawing to a close, thank goodness. Will 2021 be markedly better? A few weeks ago, that seemed like a pretty safe bet. In the midst of what seemed to be eternally rising COVID-19 case counts, we got news of not one but several successful vaccines. And then—poof!—they were being loaded in trucks and shipped around the United States.
In our virtual Reason office, we talked about the things we would do come summer 2021, when not just small gatherings but big public events become OK again. Someone bought tickets to a big arena concert. Someone is planning a trip overseas. It all seemed possible.
What a difference a week makes. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is way slower and more disorganized than expected, sowing doubts that we'll reach mass vaccination status in anything like a timely manner.
"If you listen to the time frame they're talking about, it starts at about six months. We'd be at critical mass in June, and then [the estimate] went to about September, and now some people are talking about the end of the year," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a Wednesday press conference.
Governors are being WAY too precious about who gets this vaccine and we're going to end up with millions of doses of expired vaccines if states don't get serious about getting this out the door. These numbers are dangerously bad https://t.co/9VBv9nSEkr pic.twitter.com/RciNui1kSn
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) December 30, 2020
Meanwhile, health authorities have started discovering cases of Americans infected with the new COVID-19 strain (in Colorado and California). While the new variant doesn't appear to be more deadly, or even to make people sicker than the original strain, it does spread much more easily.
BREAKING: Newsom says about an hour ago, they were informed that the new UK covid-19 strain has been confirmed in Southern California
— Lara Korte (@lara_korte) December 30, 2020
How big of a problem the new variant will be here remains to be seen. Perhaps it's limited to a few locales for now, but that seems unlikely, or at least unlikely to keep. But one thing is clear, based on the United Kingdom's response to the variant and U.S. leaders' handling of the pandemic so far: The variant will serve as a handy justification for politicians to reimpose lockdown orders or refuse to lift existing ones.
The good news is that existing vaccines are thought to work on the new variant. The bad news is that we're not sure they will work as well. Here's what bioinformatics specialist Trevor Bedford had to say to The Seattle Times:
Q: You've said the new variant might be slightly less susceptible to vaccine-induced immunity, but that it isn't different enough to completely foil existing vaccines. Why?
A: The main reason I think that is because there's a particular mutation in the U.K. variant that removes two different (portions) of the spike protein, and that tucks in a bit of protein that was sticking out and was an antibody target. So it removes that target for antibodies.
And there was a study from a lab in Cambridge … where they took serum from people who had recovered from COVID and measured it against wild type virus and against viruses that have this deletion. And they saw that the antibodies of the recovered individuals neutralize the mutated virus significantly less than the wild type virus.
If I had to hazard a guess, I believe we could see a modest reduction, like from 95% vaccine effectiveness to 85% or so, but I don't think it would really severely inhibit the vaccine.
"It's nuts." Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley is going full Trump on the 2020 election results. Some of his GOP colleagues aren't pleased.
"Politically for them it might be great for their base, for their fundraising, for things like that but, nationally, it's horrific," Rep. Denver Riggleman (R–Va.) told MSNBC. "I find it amazing that right now we have Republicans that are actually objecting to Federalism and wanting sort of this overthrow or this sort of 'let's throw out the electoral voters, let's ignore the states, we've already litigated this and let's move forward.' And the only thing I can say is it's nuts."
Prosecutors aren't letting go of the Robert Kraft prostitution case. Florida prosecutors, still intent on punishing New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for getting a hand job, are refusing to delete massage parlor surveillance footage that multiple judges ruled off-limits for use in a criminal trial. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg—who repeatedly lied about the purpose and findings of a prostitution bust at Orchids of Asia spa, calling it a rescue mission to save Asian female sex slaves who worked there when the only people punished in the case were those same workers—"argues there is still a civil case pending in which the videos could be used as evidence," reports ABC News.
In the early days of the pandemic, many U.S. distilleries stepped up to fill in the hand sanitizer shortage by using their equipment to produce sanitizer instead of liquor. Now, the U.S. government is punishing them for it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "delivered notice to distilleries that had produced hand sanitizer in the early days of the pandemic that they now owe an unexpected fee to the government of more than $14,000," notes Jacob Grier. More here.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is back to rebuffing efforts to raise COVID-19 relief checks from $600 to $2,000. "The GOP leader made clear he is unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Trump and even some fellow Republican senators demanding action," reports the Associated Press.
- Around 60 percent of Ohio nursing home staffers offered the COVID-19 vaccine have said no thanks, according to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
- "Over the weekend, a Wisconsin hospital announced that it had been forced to toss more than 500 doses of the coronavirus vaccine because an employee accidentally left dozens of vials unrefrigerated overnight," notes The Washington Post. "But on Wednesday, the hospital said the incident was no accident."
- Violence and misconduct are pervasive among police in Columbus, Ohio.
- You should watch The Wilds.