COVID-19 Surges as Kids Head Back to School: The Latest on the Pandemic

The timing of the fifth wave of COVID-19 could not be any worse. Cases continue to surge throughout much of the US as kids everywhere head back to school. Here is the latest on the pandemic this week.

Hospitalizations Soar

According to new data from the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), over 100,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with the virus. This number represents the highest number of hospitalizations at the hands of COVID-19 since the peak in January. It is also the largest number since the vaccine has become widely available.

The data paints a bleak picture for the nation's ICUs with 30% of these beds now holding patients struggling with COVID-19. Many states are seeing ICUs pushed to the brink. The hospital capacity situation is particularly dire in the South where vaccination rates remain low. The Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington are also experiencing a surge in hospitalizations despite having a relatively high vaccination rate.

Officials continue to point to data that demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of those who are hospitalized are unvaccinated. Hospital administrators are also reminding citizens that the high amount of COVID-19 hospitalizations put the treatment of other health conditions in a precarious position.

Pfizer Receives Full FDA Approval

The big news of the week was the Monday approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The approval makes Pfizer the first vaccine to be formally authorized by the FDA. While the Pfizer vaccine is still under its emergency use authorization (EUA) for ages 12 - 15, the full approval was only granted for use in individuals 16 and over.

The vaccine will be marketed by Pfizer as Comirnaty. The authorization means that Pfizer can now advertise its product.

Corporate America Reacts to Pfizer Approval

As expected, corporate America is using the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine to justify mandating vaccines for its employees. The approval of the vaccine opens the door for companies, governmental organizations, and more to require that employees get the vaccine as a condition of employment.

Delta Airlines has not gone so far as to mandate the vaccines as its competitor United Airlines has, however, it announced this week that it will levy an additional $200 per month health insurance premium to unvaccinated employees. This surcharge will begin on November 1 for all employees who have not been fully vaccinated. The company also said that COVID-19 pay protection will only apply to fully vaccinated employees with breakthrough infections beginning on September 30.

Silver Lining

It has been hard to find any good news amidst this latest surge of the virus. However, one silver lining is that COVID-19 vaccination rates throughout the US have been on the upswing in the last few weeks.

After bottoming out in June, the rate started to inch back up in July. By August, the US had recorded a few days of over one million new people initiating the vaccination process. Health officials are hopeful that this new interest in the vaccine will continue in the coming weeks, particularly because the Pfizer vaccine has been granted full approval.

One group that is seeing a significant surge in vaccinations is the 12 - 17 age bracket. According to White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, 50% of adolescents in this age bracket have received at least one shot. This is especially important as kids head back to the classroom.

Booster Shot Date Recommendation Moved Up?

After recently announcing the rollout for a third booster recommendation beginning at the 8-month mark since the second dose of the vaccine, the administration of President Joe Biden may be reconsidering that time frame. According to Biden, his administration is now considering if the booster date should be moved up to six months after the last shot.

Biden points to the advice he received after meeting with Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House. As one of the leading nations when it comes to vaccination rates, Israel has been providing a host of data that points to the shot's efficacy waning after six months.

The current booster program is set to begin on September 20 in the US.

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