Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
Buried in the news of the week is this fairly stunning statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study shows that the majority of children have been infected with the coronavirus and 43% of the U.S. population has been infected at some point in the pandemic.
You can see the demographics of estimated infections in this CDC graphic:
The data used in the study runs through most of January. Since the omicron variant spread so fast in January and February, the percentage of Americans and children who have been infected would be even higher if we had today’s data.
The Washington Post explains how the CDC landed on these estimates. For example, how did they know that the presence of antibodies in samples didn’t come from a vaccine? The Post explains:
Every two weeks, the CDC gathers tens of thousands of blood tests analyzed by commercial labs nationwide for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, such as checkups or other medical treatment. Those samples are also tested for coronavirus antibodies. The percentage of people with antibodies is known as seroprevalence.
The blood test study includes infections throughout the pandemic but counts each person only once. Daily coronavirus case rates tally every known infection, so many people who have had reinfections are counted again and again. The estimated 140 million is well over double the number of people included in counts by The Washington Post or government agencies as of late January.
The blood tests count only antibodies from natural infection, including asymptomatic cases, not from vaccination. The study measures the presence of antibodies. It does not indicate whether there is strong protection against subsequent infection.
The discouraging news about vaccine effectiveness for 5–11-year-old children
Let’s start by noting that the data in this item has not been peer-reviewed — but Pfizer is taking it seriously. The new data from New York state shows Pfizer’s vaccine for 5- to 11-year-old was 68% effective in December. But just more than a month later, the effectiveness dropped to 12%. Pfizer says a third dose might help.
The researchers found that vaccines offer protection against infections that are severe enough to cause hospitalizations. But even the protection against serious illness dropped by half over a month, from 100% protective to about 48% protective.
Researchers say the initial protection makes still makes the vaccine worthwhile but “these results highlight the potential need to study alternative vaccine dosing for children and the continued importance layered protections, including mask wearing, to prevent infection and transmission.”
This is a significant issue for a couple of reasons. First, the finding will further undermine parental confidence in the vaccinations. And keep in mind that there are more than 7 million children in this age group. Only a fourth of them are fully vaccinated now, according to the CDC. About a third of that age group has gotten one dose of the vaccine.
The vaccination rate for children and teens has slowed to a crawl in recent weeks. Here is the latest CDC data:
New poll: Americans say COVID-19 is not under control
New Washington Post-ABC News polling shows that Americans are not willing to say that we are past the pandemic just yet. The polling also shows waning support for President Joe Biden’s handling of the pandemic and a reluctance to return to pre-pandemic life. For the moment, at least. Some of you have been in my classes where I urge journalists to read methodology pages and data tables. I’ll share below what I found deep inside the poll’s data pages.
The polling shows that of the three big issues that people care about right now, Biden is getting negatives on all of them, but the handling of the pandemic is the least worst. That is not much of a compliment, but even worse for Biden, his approval rating for handling the pandemic has been steadily going down.
Shortly after Biden took office, two-thirds of the American public had a positive outlook on his handling of the pandemic. By last month, the disapproval numbers grew by a whopping 20%.
This next question is interesting because it sews together the top issue of inflation with the pandemic. The public blames the pandemic for inflation more than it blames corporate greed or even the president. In fact, one in four Americans polled does not blame Biden “at all” for inflation.
The poll straight-out asked how “under control” the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is right now. It is one area that you might find to be encouraging. While only 6% say it is completely under control, only 15% say it is not at all under control. In the summer of 2020, that number was 46%.
This last question and answer are both head-scratchers to me. While an increasing number of people say the virus is more under control, only 56% of the public says they are returning to normal, which is down 10% from last summer. Keep in mind that is when the country was mostly between the delta and omicron variant — and ditching masks, vacationing and thinking offices would reopen after Labor Day. In this number, I see some sense of caution like, “We have been fooled before and we are not going to take for granted that there won’t be additional setbacks.”
Ukraine’s COVID-19 threat
If this was their only problem, it would be a big problem. Ukraine recently recorded its biggest new COVID-19 case spike. We do not have data from the last week because as you can imagine, the government is busy with other matters. NBC News reports:
Ukraine is coming off its largest spike in Covid cases yet — its seven-day average hit a record of 37,408 on Feb. 10, according to an NBC News tally. Less than 40 percent of the population had been vaccinated as of Feb. 15.
What’s more, Ukraine has been trying to control a polio outbreak since October. Two children with paralytic polio have been identified, and 19 more were identified as infected with the virus but did not develop paralysis.
“Confirmation of the second paralytic case in January 2022 is evidence that the virus is still circulating in the country,” World Health Organization spokesperson Tarik Jašarević said in a statement. “The current crisis in Ukraine increases the risk of national and international spread of the virus.”
As of 2020, about 87 percent of the population had received the first dose of the polio vaccine, Jašarević said. Ukraine began a vaccination campaign on Feb. 1 targeting children younger than 6 who hadn’t gotten their polio shots.
The times in which we live: Theme song for Ukraine
But there is another song they are singing: the 1984 Twisted Sister anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider is praising Ukrainians who have turned one of his band’s hit songs into a rallying cry.
“I absolutely approve of Ukrainians using ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ as their battle cry,” Snider tweeted.
It is noteworthy that he approves this use of the song since he opposed anti-maskers from using it during their protests. He explained, again in a tweet, “Well, one use is for a righteous battle against oppression; the other is an infantile feet stomping against an inconvenience.”
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