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Alarmed by the COVID-19 Surge in Europe? Don’t Be.

Americans should be thankful, not fearful. The U.S. is unlikely to see the kind of COVID-19 surge now occurring in Europe.

The U.S. has high COVID-19 vaccination rates. Eighty-two percent of those 18 and older and 100% of the uniquely vulnerable population over age 65 have had at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of equal importance, over 96% of vaccine doses administered have been the strong 95%-effective Pfizer and Moderna shots.

In Europe, vaccination rates are high, but many people have been vaccinated with less effective vaccines, primarily the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine which is somewhere between 63% and 79% effective.

COVID-19 surged first in the United Kingdom, where 50 million doses of the AZ vaccine have been administered to a population of 67 million. Accordingly, 25 to 50 million people (AZ is a two-shot vaccine) have had only about 70% protection. Thus, the UK population entered its surge with a much lower level of actual protection than implied by the overall vaccination rate reported by most media outlets.

Other European nations are experiencing major surges of the virus as well. Austria imposed a nationwide lockdown last Monday. The latest data from European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show Austria with a one-shot vaccination rate of about 81% for ages 18 and over. Unfortunately, 15% of those doses are the less-effective AZ shot and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is about 65% effective.

Germany is experiencing a surge. According to the ECDC, Germany has a vaccination rate of 83% for those 18 and older, with, however, about one-quarter of the doses being the weaker AZ and J&J vaccines.

An equivalent surge in the U.S. is improbable. With our high vaccination rate of 82% and almost exclusive use of the 95%-effective Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the current spikes in parts of the nation are unlikely to reach the dimensions of the surges in Europe.

When the various vaccines first came out, all the different types were received with much relief and joy.

That was then. Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration never authorized the AZ vaccine, and the J&J shot suffered an early scare concerning side effects and never gained much traction.

The Europeans have been switching to the more effective vaccines. The UK has decided not to use its home-grown AZ vaccine but rather the Pfizer vaccine for booster shots.

Focusing upon high efficacy is important. Nothing undermines public trust like ineffective protection.

This logic should be extended to COVID-19 treatments. The UK is administering a 50%-effective Merck virus treatment pill. Earlier this month, Pfizer cut short clinical trials of its anti-viral COVID-19 treatment pill after it registered an amazing 89% effectiveness rate. The FDA should approve the Pfizer pill as soon as possible.

The Merck pill not so much. It would not be surprising to see the UK to switch from the Merck to the Pfizer pill.

In this season, Americans should be thankful for highly effective vaccines and, prospectively, for the similarly effective Pfizer treatment pill, and for American democracy and our free enterprise system which have produced such wondrous pharmaceutical breakthroughs.

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