The United States crossed a tragic milestone as the nation registered over half a million human lives lost to the new coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The grim milestone comes just over a month after the nation surpassed 400,000 virus-related deaths in January and broke 300,000 less than a month earlier. President Biden is expected to hold a candle ceremony Monday night with a moment of silence in memory of the victims.
“This amount of destruction is a nuisance that we ourselves create,” said Dr. Greg Poland, expert in infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic, to Fox News. “Americans could and should have prevented this by taking science-based recommendations seriously.”
New daily deaths, cases and hospitalizations are declining, and while some experts say this is encouraging, the presence of more transferable variants and so-called “pandemic fatigue” with relaxing mitigation measures and fewer people choosing vaccinations could come in the spring, could prolong time needed to achieve herd immunity, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, formerly.
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“While [a decline in cases] is certainly hopeful news, the unfortunate milestone of 500,000 deaths should give us a break, “Dr. Steven Gordon, president of infectious disease at the Cleveland Clinic, wrote to Fox News in part.” Behind every death is a beloved family member, friend or colleague. “
Gordon urged mask wearing, social distance, frequent hand washing and avoiding gatherings until widespread vaccination leads to herd immunity. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently projected that it is “possible” that Americans may still need face masks by 2022, even though the country could approach a certain “degree of normality.”
The news comes amid a feverish vaccination effort, limited by limited supply, aimed at cutting off serious illnesses and deaths across vulnerable populations. Up to 18 million Americans (over 5%) have received two doses of vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, although a third candidate from Johnson & Johnson is awaiting FDA approval. An independent panel of experts advising the FDA will meet Friday to discuss the approval of the candidate.
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The grim milestone also comes as preliminary studies weigh the impact of rapidly spreading variants on vaccine efficacy, with research pointing to a two-thirds reduction in Pfizer’s vaccine-induced antibody levels against a strain first detected in South Africa, and Moderna reported on six times decrease in neutralizing force. The companies said it is unclear what protection the vaccines offer against the variant, although they previously promised confidence that jabs would remain effective. Drug manufacturers are now exploring the idea of variant booster shots in an attempt at greater protection against the strains.
However, vaccination of the American population will not conquer the pandemic; Experts say sweeping vaccinations across the globe will ultimately prevent the emergence of variants and put an end to a pathogen that is blamed for at least 2.5 million deaths worldwide.