David A. Andelman reflects on his situation in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, executive director of The Red Lines Project, is a contributor to CNN. His columns won the Deadline Club Award for best opinion writing. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today” and the upcoming “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy and a History of Wars That Almost Happened”, he was previously a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The opinions expressed in this comment are yours. See more opinions on CNNe.com/opinion
. – As New York, my home, occasionally reopens for half a century, I have been reflecting on some difficult and very sad events in life for myself and others in my position. For the past three months, since my return from France on March 13, I have been carefully cloistered in our cabin in the woods in Northeast Pennsylvania. In a lengthy telehealth conversation with my 30+ year old pulmonologist, I recently came to the disturbing conclusion that I may not be able to return to my New York City apartment or visit my family in Paris for years.
As for the coronavirus, my prognosis, as Dr. Stuart Garay of NYU Langone Medical Center put it tactfully, is not good. At 75, with lifelong asthma, I am probably hopeless. As my doctor, a renowned pulmonologist, told me, I am the most active person in my 70s with a lung capacity of 30% who has ever been treated. Having covered wars, revolutions, political unrest in 86 countries may have contributed to my resistance. All of this is likely of little consequence to the ravages of the covid-19.
Hardly be alone. A substantial portion of the American population is with me: more than 50 million people over the age of 65, 25 million with asthma, not to mention 34 million Americans with diabetes and 121 million with heart disease. There are some suggestions, particularly in the research of Dr. Michael C. Peters and colleagues, that some asthmatics who take steroids may do better since their treatments may block the more damaging effects of the coronavirus. For most, however, life is a long way from returning to normal.
The New York Times recently surveyed 511 epidemiologists, of whom I suspect few face the same risks as me and my group. More than half said it could take up to a year before eating at a restaurant, sending their children to school, camp or daycare, or working in a “shared office.” Nearly two-thirds said it would be more than a year before they performed at a sporting event, concert, or play. More than 40% said they would wait more than a year before attending a wedding or funeral, going to church or synagogue, or dating someone they did not know well.
And recent comments from other experts have hardly been more reassuring. The country’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that “we are still at the beginning of really understanding” this disease.
Until there is infallible treatment or vaccine, the risks of death simply outweigh any of the pleasures of my daily life prior to covid-19. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual flu shot reduces your risk of getting it by 40% to 60% “during the seasons when most circulating flu viruses coincide with the vaccine.” The CDC also notes that “several studies have shown that flu vaccination reduces the severity of the illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.”
Important questions remain about whether asthmatics like me, whose lungs have been damaged for decades, could do much better with a vaccine for this much more virulent and deadly virus.
Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer for Johnson & Johnson, confirmed my fears when he told Bloomberg News that there was a debate in the medical community about this effectiveness rate: “Is 50% enough? Does it have to be 70%? Does it have to be 90%? If you can prevent 7 out of 10 people from becoming infected or sick, a great shot is valuable. ”
In fact, more than a quarter of a century after I made the first report to CBS News on the discovery of HIV at the Pasteur Institute, there is still no vaccine since the virus itself has an extremely high mutation rate.
Even effective treatment with a triple drug cocktail took more than a decade to develop. Alarmingly, there are recent indications that the coronavirus has also begun to mutate into an easier form of transmission, although much remains to be investigated about what that means for infection rates and vaccine development.
Stoffels says the accepted efficacy target is 70%. But even if that level is reached, do I really want to roll the dice with a 3-in-10 chance of contracting a disease that will almost certainly prove fatal? And where the risk could be even higher for those of us who have type A blood, a factor that, according to a European study, may increase the risk and severity of the infection?
Although many countries are emerging from confinement this month, the virus is far from running. World Health Organization figures for June 22 showed more than 8.8 million infections and 465,000 deaths worldwide, with approximately 152,000 of those cases and more than 4,000 deaths recorded in the past 24 hours.
As we celebrate the opening of the United States, there must be millions of Americans like me wondering, “Will this be my life to the end?” “Should we feel marginalized when our friends and family return to work and resume their lives?” At the same time, Donald Trump appears to have come out of the pandemic campaign. His meetings with the White House coronavirus task force have dwindled and his concern now seems closer to the economy than to coronavirus victims.
So what should people like me do? Probably precisely what I’m doing now. Hibernate. My latest book has been written, it will be published early next year and I will probably take a virtual tour of the book across the United States, Europe and Asia.
I suspect he is hardly alone. Life will not emerge for many of us. My vibrant professional life is just compensation for my missing friends and family and the ability to see my 7-year-old grandson grow in person, rather than at the end of a Zoom call. But Trump must remember that many of us will vote in November (many by absentee voting). You should pay attention to our non-insignificant block before canceling us.