The Morning Jolt

Health Care

The Conventional Wisdom on the Vaccine Wall Is Wrong

A child rubs his arm after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Los Angeles, Calif., May 13, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

On the menu today: how the conventional wisdom that America has hit the vaccine wall is just flat wrong; how Ohio’s vaccine-encouragement lottery system had an immediate impact; and the risk-vs.-reward calculation of professional athletes when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.

No, America Isn’t Really Hitting a Vaccine Wall

Axios, April 9: “America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall.”

I’m not fond of that metaphor, because when you hit a wall, you stop. The daily average of administered vaccines did peak at 3.37 million shots a few days later on April 13, but it’s not like vaccinations suddenly dropped like a stone after that. The average daily rate slowly and steadily declined, to just under 2 million per day.

We’ve enjoyed a nice little bump in the past few days; the preliminary figure for Saturday, May 15, was 2.39 million, and the preliminary figure for Sunday was 2.71 million.

The U.S. was always going to reach a point when those most eager to get vaccinated got their shots, leaving a pool of those who were less enthusiastic; it took us about four months. According to to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, Our worst day in the past month appears to be May 4, with just 985,000 shots administered, but there was such a surge in the subsequent days — more than 2.3 million from May 6 to 9 — that the severe one-day dip might just reflect a delay in reporting data.

Would it be better if every American dutifully and diligently scheduled an appointment or went into a walk-in vaccination site on the first day they were eligible? Sure, but that was never a realistic option. Some Americans will mosey and procrastinate. And some just want to win a prize.

On May 12, Ohio governor Mike DeWine announced that starting on May 26 and once a week for five weeks, the state would award $1 million dollars to one person who had gotten vaccinated. (The anti-vaxxers think creating this kind of incentive is an evil plan, but I think it’s more accurately described as a Dr. Evil plan.) Separately, Ohioans ages twelve to 17 who get vaccinated are eligible to win “a four year, full ride scholarship to any Ohio state college or university, including room and board, tuition and books.”

The day before DeWine’s announcement, 12,757 Ohioans received their first shot. On the day after the announcement, 21,574 Ohioans did the same, and the day after that, another 20,311 walked through the vaccination-site doors for the first time.

The national increase in the past few days probably reflects the fact that teenagers from twelve to 15 are now eligible, and we should expect the vaccination rate among younger Americans to continue to improve. Quite a few colleges and universities will make a COVID-19 vaccination a requirement to enroll in the autumn. Public-school districts will probably not require them for high schoolers on that timetable, as it would require changing state laws, and the vaccine only now became available for younger teens. But a vaccination requirement for the 2022–2023 school year might be in the cards.

Not only is the U.S. national media coverage of the pandemic particularly pessimistic and negative, it also appears tailor-made to divide Americans, telling those who are already vaccinated that they are personally endangered by the vaccine hesitant and those who refuse to get vaccinated. Once you’re fully vaccinated, your body is as prepared as it can get for an encounter with SARS-CoV-2. (Mind you, fully vaccinated people can still end up in the hospital from COVID-19, but it is rare; adults 65 years and older were 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were not vaccinated.) Yes, you might need a booster shot sometime in the future; it’s hard to measure how long the vaccine is effective because it’s so new.

While the details are complicated, the vaccines work against the variants — at least well enough to prevent severe reactions and death. Could some future variant emerge here or overseas that the vaccines cannot defeat? Anything is theoretically possible, but keep in mind, the world has had roughly 163 million diagnosed cases. The virus has had plenty of opportunities to mutate since the autumn of 2019 and has yet to change into a vaccine-proof form.

Why Some Athletes Aren’t Rushing Out to Get Vaccinated

People have wondered what’s going on with the New York Yankees, who had eight players and staff test positive, despite being vaccinated; all except one are asymptomatic. But the vaccine does not guarantee that you will never catch the virus or never generate a positive result on a COVID-19 test. The vaccine ensures that if you catch the virus, you are extremely unlikely to have a severe reaction, require hospitalization, or die from the virus.

You’ve seen some reluctance to get vaccinated among professional athletes, and while the logic of the hesitation is wrong, it’s easy to see why some athletes did not rush out to get vaccinated at the first opportunity. Start with the fact that most professional athletes were in age groups that were not eligible to get vaccinated in most states until mid April or so.

Most professional athletes are young and in tip-top physical shape. They rank among the people least likely to have a severe reaction to COVID-19. (It’s not impossible, of course.) It’s easy to see why they would feel the least threat from the virus, and rank among those feeling the least urgency to get vaccinated.

Second, the athletes have probably heard that the vaccination shots can generate their own short-lived intense reactions — chills, headaches, fever, sore arms, fatigue, nausea, dizziness.

These guys may fear that getting vaccinated could knock them out for a game or two at a critical point in the season. Most professional athletes are competitors who hate to miss any game, particularly if they feel their teams need them.

In the past few weeks, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League have wrapped up their regular seasons and began their playoffs, and Major League Baseball just started its season. All of these sports are playing three to six games a week, leaving players with limited downtime and considerable travel.

This article, written by an anonymous caddie on the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour, offered a fascinating look into the calculations of risk vs. reward in some corners of the professional sports world:

. . . on the whole — please underline “on the whole” — guys on tour aren’t spooked by the coronavirus. It’s not that they think it’s made up. A lot of them just think of it like the flu despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Before you judge, let me try to explain.

First, we don’t have a “bubble,” at least not like what the NBA or NHL had during the playoffs last year. Players and caddies have traveled across the country for 10 months since this madness started, and we have all taken the tour’s safety protocols seriously, especially after the 2020 Travelers Championship, where several withdrawals over COVID fears almost derailed the PGA Tour’s season. Everyone’s social lives were curtailed, but we were still in public airports and hotels. The fact that only a dozen or so players have tested positive has relieved that fear for some. A few of the guys who did test positive got really sick, more than fans have been led to believe, and that certainly got our attention. But there’s also a difference between knowing about it and being sick yourself.

Second, a lot of these guys, players and caddies, are 30 or younger. Regardless of what your profession is, at that age a lot of us have a tendency to think we’re invincible. Combine that with the hubris professional athletes have, and there’s a belief that it won’t happen to us. I’m not making excuses. It’s just how it is. I know I’ve been guilty of thinking, If I haven’t gotten sick by now, I must be good.

A number of players and caddies will pass on getting vaccinated—anywhere from a fourth to a third would be my estimate. However, the consequences of not getting vaccinated are much different for caddies than for players, and it has nothing to do with health.

If a player tests positive, he misses a tournament, two at max, and the tour will give him $75,000 for his trouble. Once the player tests negative or shows he is asymptomatic, he can resume play. To the tour’s credit, if a caddie tests positive, he gets $5,000. But there’s no guarantee that caddie will be back. As we’ve mentioned in this space before, caddies are always one bad tournament, round, shot or decision away from being replaced.

ADDENDUM: Hmmm: “The National Survey of Public School Parents, conducted online from April 22 to May 3, 2021, found that 73 percent of parents said they are comfortable with in-person learning for their child this fall.”

By September, every teacher will have been eligible to get vaccinated for more than half a year. Kids ages twelve and over will have been eligible for four or five months. What more does the other 27 percent of parents need to see to be comfortable with in-person learning?


The Latest

A Revolt in Cuba

A Revolt in Cuba

Last month, thousands of Cubans poured into the streets, daring to protest the government that has ruled them for 60-plus years.