Sign of the Times

Beyond the Curve: Dr. Peter Lurie's COVID-19 Blog

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OK, you can say I should get with the modern era, but sometimes reading print versions of newspapers actually pays off. As an assiduous COVID-watcher, I’ve paid close attention to the daily pandemic precis and outbreak graphics on page A4 of the New York Times. In recent weeks, as the pandemic has waned, it’s almost been enjoyable: the steady downward drift of new cases and the way Michigan, once dark black, has lightened up county by county as cases have dropped in recent weeks.

So imagine my surprise when I noticed this past Tuesday that the precis and graphics on page A4 had gone MIA. The International Section was restored to its rightful place on A4 and the featured section Tracking an Outbreak, a standard part of the Times for over a year now, had vanished. The following day, we hit another milestone: other than a general story about the limits of our supply chains – not so much about COVID, but rather about how COVID had laid bare an existing flaw – the Wednesday print issue literally had no articles on COVID-19. And a few days earlier, the Times announced the demise of its special pandemic weekly At Home section.

It’s almost as if the pandemic is over and order has been restored.

Well, not exactly. Although there are recent favorable trends, does this graph of global COVID-19 cases (from the Times’s website) look to you like a pandemic that has run its course?

Graph of COVID cases over the course of the pandemic

I say all this not to fault the Times, whose pandemic coverage has generally been exemplary. There had to come a time when our so-called newspaper of record would relax its focus somewhat. But it’s critical that we are constantly reminded that this pandemic is ending exactly the way many of us thought it would: with effective vaccines making huge inroads in most developed countries, and the rest of the world left to languish for months and even years to secure vaccine doses now being administered to low-risk people in developed countries. These are the same developed countries that snapped up the vast majority of the early doses (in some instances securing numbers of doses in vast excess of their populations) as higher-risk people remain unvaccinated. A scant 0.4% of all vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries. This is public health malpractice, plain and simple. 

I understand that global leaders are elected to protect their own nations, but history will not look kindly on our inability to come together in a crisis to allocate a scarce global good in the most efficient way. Yes, there are rays of light, like the Covax initiative which seeks to secure vaccinations for low-income countries; five wealthy countries just committed $2.4 billion in new funding to global vaccination efforts. And the Biden Administration has promised 80 million vaccines doses by the end of June – a drop in the bucket for a vaccination effort estimated to require 11 billion doses if we are to vaccinate 70% of the planet’s population. It is no exaggeration to say that this misallocation of COVID-19 shots will cost tens of thousands, and likely hundreds of thousands, of lives. And that is all the news that’s fit to print.

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