Vaccine Rollout Begins

The United Kingdom started vaccinating its population against covid-19 yesterday, becoming the first country to start distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, less than a week after its approval.

In other news:

  • The FDA’s first analysis of the clinical trial data shows that the coronavirus vaccine worked well regardless of a volunteer’s race, weight or age.
  • Gallup reports “Americans’ latest assessment of their mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades.”
  • A flood of new data — on the national, state and district levels — finds students began this academic year behind. Most of the research concludes students of color and those in high-poverty communities fell further behind their peers, exacerbating long-standing gaps in American education.
  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem explains how her state’s balanced coronavirus response has resulted in numbers much better than those of Illinois, New Jersey and New York.

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Additionally, we just released an update on how COVID-19 is playing out on university campuses.

COVID News

Pfizer’s Vaccine Offers Strong Protection After First Dose

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech provides strong protection against Covid-19 within about 10 days of the first dose, according to documents published on Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration before a meeting of its vaccine advisory group.

The finding is one of several significant new results featured in the briefing materials, which include more than 100 pages of data analyses from the agency and from Pfizer. Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their two-dose vaccine had an efficacy rate of 95 percent after two doses administered three weeks apart. The new analyses show that the protection starts kicking in far earlier.

What’s more, the vaccine worked well regardless of a volunteer’s race, weight or age. While the trial did not find any serious adverse events caused by the vaccine, many participants did experience aches, fevers and other side effects.

“This is what an A+ report card looks like for a vaccine,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University.

Restaurant Holdouts Defy Covid-19 Shutdown Orders

https://www.wsj.com/articles/restaurant-holdouts-defy-covid-19-shutdown-orders-11606658401

Some restaurants are rejecting a new round of shutdown orders, saying that serving customers indoors is their only way to stay in business and that they can do so safely.

Mike Coughlin is breaking an Illinois state order by doing what he has done for 26 years—serving pot-roast and fish-fry platters inside his Village Tavern and Grill. He says it is worth the risk if it keeps his restaurant in business through the coronavirus pandemic.

Like tens of thousands of restaurant owners across the U.S., Mr. Coughlin closed his dining room in the village of Carol Stream, Ill., early in the pandemic, reopened at limited capacity when local rules allowed and expanded outdoor patio service over the summer. He spent thousands of dollars on seating dividers and bought a $10,000 air-purification system for his dining room this fall.

Then Illinois suspended indoor dining statewide earlier this month as Covid-19 cases surged. Mr. Coughlin faced the loss of holiday business as his financial reserves dwindled. He decided to keep his dining room open, even if it meant legal consequences or fines.

Americans’ Mental Health Ratings Sink to New Low

https://news.gallup.com/poll/327311/americans-mental-health-ratings-sink-new-low.aspx

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ latest assessment of their mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults rate their mental health positively, representing a nine-point decline from 2019.

Each year since 2001, Gallup has asked Americans as part of its November Health and Healthcare survey to say whether their own mental or emotional wellbeing is excellent, good, only fair or poor. The reading for those rating their mental health as excellent or good ranged from 81% to 89% until this year’s 76%.

Although the majority of U.S. adults continue to rate their mental health as excellent (34%) or good (42%), and far fewer say it is only fair (18%) or poor (5%), the latest excellent ratings are eight points lower than Gallup has measured in any prior year.

The latest weakening in positive ratings, from a Nov. 5-19 poll, are undoubtedly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to profoundly disrupt people’s lives, but may also reflect views of the election and the state of race relations, both of which were on Americans’ minds this year.

‘A lost generation’: Surge of research reveals students sliding backward, most vulnerable worst affected

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/students-falling-behind/2020/12/06/88d7157a-3665-11eb-8d38-6aea1adb3839_story.html

After the U.S. education system fractured into Zoom screens last spring, experts feared millions of children would fall behind. Hard evidence now shows they were right.

A flood of new data — on the national, state and district levels — finds students began this academic year behind. Most of the research concludes students of color and those in high-poverty communities fell further behind their peers, exacerbating long-standing gaps in American education.

A study released this week by McKinsey & Co. estimates that the shift to remote school in the spring set White students back by one to three months in math, while students of color lost three to five months. As the coronavirus pandemic persists through this academic year, McKinsey said, losses will escalate.

Commentary/Analysis

The Unseen Costs of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Americans are well versed in the consequences for physical health from COVID-19. Newspapers brim daily with scary headlines alarming us of any risk that it might pose, no matter how minor or remote. But there are other nasty and less often discussed consequences brought on by this pandemic and by our collective reaction to it—whether that’s due to people locking themselves up at home out of fear of encountering others or government-ordered lockdowns.

These consequences deserve our attention. They are real and poignant, and they disproportionately affect society’s least powerful. Victims of the current pandemic response have little political or economic voice. So, let me speak for them:

They are the small-business owners who have seen their businesses destroyed by the lockdowns. They are the owners of restaurants and small shops that never reopened, even when the lockdowns were partially lifted.

They are the small-business owners who don’t know how long they can survive with so few customers, but they know that they won’t survive another lockdown.

South Dakota’s Balanced Covid Response

https://www.wsj.com/articles/south-dakotas-balanced-covid-response-11607381485

In the coming weeks, governors across the country will give speeches outlining their budget proposals. Following months of economic lockdowns, sheltering in place, and huge numbers of businesses being forced to close permanently, many of my peers are likely not looking forward to these addresses. Some will propose tax increases. Others will take on more debt, and a few will be forced to make significant budget cuts. In South Dakota, as we have done throughout this pandemic, we will forge a different path.

Rather than following the pack and mandating harsh rules, South Dakota provides our residents with information about what is happening on the ground in our state—the science, facts and data. Then, we ask all South Dakotans to take personal responsibility for their health, the health of their loved ones, and—in turn—the health of our communities. The state hasn’t issued lockdowns or mask mandates. We haven’t shut down businesses or closed churches. In fact, our state has never even defined what an “essential business” is. That isn’t the government’s role.

Research

COVID-19 and learning loss—disparities grow and students need help

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-learning-loss-disparities-grow-and-students-need-help

When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a historic shutdown of US schools in the spring, state and district leaders speculated that the disruption could last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. With a surge in new infections, the pandemic is now likely to keep many students out of the classroom until well into 2021.

Educators, parents, and students know firsthand the high cost of this prolonged period of remote learning, from rising rates of depression and anxiety to the loss of student learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an especially heavy toll on Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities. Along with robbing them of lives and livelihoods, school shutdowns could deny students from these communities the opportunity to get the education they need to build a brighter future.

In the spring, we examined how school shutdowns were likely to compound racial disparities in learning and achievement, analyzing the toll on learning, dropout rates, and the overall economy. We now share assessment data from this fall, which show that students, on average, started school about three months behind where we would expect them to be in mathematics. Students of color were about three to five months behind in learning; white students were about one to three months behind. The picture for reading is more positive, with students starting school just a month and a half behind historical averages.

Charts and Graphics

Americans’ Assessment of Their Mental Health, 2001-2020

US COVID-19 Case Fatality Rate

International News

A UK woman aged 90 was the first in the world to receive the Pfizer vaccine today

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/08/1013388/a-uk-woman-aged-90-was-the-first-in-the-world-to-receive-the-pfizer-vaccine-today

The UK started vaccinating its population against covid-19 today, becoming the first country to start distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, less than a week after its approval. It is being given to elder-care home workers and people over 80 first, with a 90-year-old woman named Margaret Keenan the first to receive it outside a clinical trial, at University Hospital Coventry. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people, or roughly a third of the country’s population. The UK government is expecting to receive a total of 4 million doses of the vaccine by the end of December.

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