Nov 25, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning. Vitals will be off until Monday for Thanksgiving.

  • Have a wonderful week, and stay safe.

Today's word count is 804, or a quick 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Most Americans are still vulnerable to the coronavirus
Adapted from Bajema, et al., 2020, "Estimated SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence in the US as of September 2020"; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As of September, the vast majority of Americans did not have coronavirus antibodies, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: As the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout most of the country, most people remain vulnerable to it.

By the numbers: Across the U.S., the portion of states' populations with detectable antibodies ranged from less than 1% to 23%. In most places, less than 10% of the population had them as of September.

  • The portion of people with antibodies was often lowest in older age groups — an ominous sign.

The intrigue: Emerging evidence suggests that antibodies wane over time. In New York — the epicenter of the spring's outbreak — the percentage of people with antibodies decreased from 23.3% in the first collection period to 17% in the final one.

Yes, but: Scientists are also discovering that antibodies may not be the body's only form of protection against the coronavirus, and how immunity works is still unclear.

The bottom line: As bad as the spring was in the Northeast, only a fraction of those states' populations actually got sick.

  • The surge of cases over the last few weeks, particularly in the Midwest and West, could easily have bumped other states up the list. But in most of the country, there is still plenty of human fuel to feed the coronavirus fire.
2. 25%-30% say they'll ignore Thanksgiving warning
Data: The Harris Poll; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About one-third of Americans say they're likely to ignore health officials' warnings about the risks of getting together for Thanksgiving, according to a new Harris Poll survey shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: The coronavirus is already spreading unchecked across the entire country, and these findings support experts' fears that Thanksgiving is about to make things even worse, Axios' Sam Baker reports.

The big picture: Solid majorities said they're likely to follow CDC guidelines and avoid traveling or gathering with people who don't live in the same home.

  • But the 25%-30% who don't plan to follow those guidelines represent millions of people.
  • And when millions of people are traveling or gathering indoors, that represents a real risk of new or worsening outbreaks — especially right now, when infections are at an all-time high.

Between the lines: Democrats were more inclined to follow the CDC's guidance than Republicans.

  • 40% of Republicans said they're unlikely to heed the CDC's warnings against gathering with people outside their immediate household, compared to 23% of Democrats. Similarly, 35% of Republicans and 18% of Democrats said they were unlikely to heed advice about traveling.
  • Young people are also less likely to follow public-health guidance than older people.

The bottom line: The CDC is urging people to stay home this year because hospitals in some parts of the country are already overwhelmed, the virus is everywhere, and eating a meal indoors with a group of people is a high-risk proposition.

3. Confusion remains over AstraZeneca vaccine

Experts are still trying to make sense of AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine, Sam writes.

The big question: Why would a lower dose be more effective?

  • Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

The intrigue: The 90% figure has gotten a lot more attention because it’s a lot more impressive, but it may be a somewhat distorted picture.

  • In clinical trials for the vaccine, the half-dose version — the one with 90% efficacy — was tested on a group that didn’t include anyone older than 55, Bloomberg reports from a briefing by Operation Warp Speed officials.
  • The half-dose version was a mistake, owing to some under-filled vials.

The other side: Some researchers believe the difference is real, and not a data issue.

  • Smaller doses may be more effective in stimulating certain parts of the body’s immune response, or that a larger dose may blunt the body’s response to some parts of the virus, according to an article in Nature.

Our thought bubble: All we’ve seen so far, for all three vaccines, are press releases. Experts still need to see scientific, peer-reviewed findings.

  • “I'm glad this is not the first vaccine to read out, because it is awfully confusing for experts and non-experts alike,” University of Florida professor Natalie Dean, an expert on vaccine clinical trial design, said in a Twitter thread.
4. Catch up quick

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For the first time since May, the U.S. yesterday reported more than 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths, per the COVID Tracking Project.

Operation Warp Speed officials said Tuesday that 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses will be released nationally in an initial distribution after the first vaccine is cleared, Reuters reports.

UPS and Ford Motor have both announced they ordered portable, ultra-low temperature freezers for storing coronavirus vaccines when they become available, Axios' Shawna Chen writes.

France will begin a three-stage plan to phase out its second COVID-19 lockdown of the year, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday, Shawna writes.

5. Dog of the week

Sherlock. Photo: Kim Brandt

Meet Sherlock, who is way more ready for the holidays than I am!

  • I hope all of us are a little extra grateful for our pets this Thanksgiving.
Sherlock. Photo: Kim Brandt