No. 27 ~ Somerville ~ March 13, 2021

Close, yet so far.

The French have to wait for daylight saving time until the 28th, but here in the U.S., starting tomorrow, we save up an hour of daylight from the morning, hold tight to it throughout the day, and then plunk it down at the end of the afternoon.  

There!, we say. Now the day is longer, the sunset lazier and more luminous, our masked life improved for it, at least by 60 clicks. 

Even as we live through this natural disaster of Covid, we try to shove Nature around with the push of a short hand. It’s a ruse, but it’s the kind of time we like. 

Springing ahead isn’t the only good news. Isabelle and I will receive our first vaccine dose on Thursday. Our stocking hats go off to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for an impressive piece of sign-up technology. We received an email saying we could make an appointment, and in one minute we were done. For weeks if not months (depending on eligibility), hundreds of thousands in Massachusetts have been spending untold hours staring at the state’s website trying to snag a vaccine appointment. Finally, a pre-registration website was launched yesterday that will allow those eligible to sign up and then get weekly updates about their status. When their name pops up, they will have 24 hours to make an appointment. The system works only with the state’s seven mass vaccination sites, but hopefully it will lift the weight off the shoulders of many a Bay Stater. The old site, a failed attempt at upgrading the original one, will be mercifully taken down. 

In France, there was a lot of fanfare last weekend over the rollout of “weekend mobilization,” when 585,000 doses were administered in three days. The French hope this weekend program will help boost the pace of vaccinations. Help will surely come from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, just approved by France yesterday for emergency use for all adults. It had already been approved by the EU. 

A turn-around is sorely needed. In a New York Times article Thursday by Benjamin Mueller and Matina Stevis-Gridneff, the European Union’s vaccine rollout is described as “disastrously slow.” They compare eight vaccine doses administered per 100 residents in the EU to 24 in the U.S. 

Europe’s dependence on the Astra-Zeneca vaccine has proved problematic. A promise of eighty million AZ doses for the first quarter of this year was “cut by more than half” by production failures. And European use approvals for the vaccine were half-hearted, restricting it only to younger populations, and casting a shadow over the trustworthiness of the vaccine. Now, though, with more supporting data coming out of Britain where the vaccine is already widely administered, European health authorities are scrambling for more Astra-Zeneca doses. 

This is where the hot new topic of vaccine hoarding comes in. 

The U.S. is sitting on “tens of millions of doses,” of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, according to another NYT article yesterday. The vaccine has been authorized by over 70 countries, but not in the U.S. Officials are still waiting for results of a trial conducted on American soil. Meanwhile Astra-Zeneca has asked the Biden administration for permission to send the doses to the EU. So far, it’s not happening. Administration officials can’t agree. 

The article concludes, “The U.S. may only briefly, or never, need the Astra-Zeneca doses.”

In my last post I wrote about the prospect and possibility of being able to travel to France this summer. Yesterday France announced a slight easing of restrictions. Seven non-EU countries* were put on an “exempt list,” providing for normal travel from those countries into France, with the exception of a PCR test requirement. The U.S. is not on the list, but the announcement represents movement in the right direction. 

Meanwhile, French health authorities struggle to control transmission of the virus. Compared to the U.S., the positive test rate there is not much higher, 7.3% to 6%. But the French are still hunkered down under a curfew that keeps them inside after 6pm. In some parts of France — infection hot spots — stricter rules are in place for the weekends. To the consternation of those so confined, Paris has been spared harsher weekend rules, but that hasn’t stopped ICU beds from filling up. In the Ile-de-France region, dominated by Paris, ICU beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients almost filled up this week, so authorities had to order a 40% cut in surgical and medical procedures to free up beds and increase capacity by 50%.

I’ve been wondering what’s causing such troublesome spread of the virus in France. The variants are more contagious, but people still have to get infected. Now I have anecdotal evidence that too many French, especially, we can imagine, the younger generations, are dropping their guard instead of pulling up their masks. It sounds like there are too many gatherings inside and outside when mask wearing is not observed. 

In the U.S., as we vaccinate nearly three million people on a good day, we have a chance of beating the variant if we keep our masks on and get vaccinated. In France, there’s the risk they will treat the pandemic the same way we do daylight, and save up some of it for later.
* The seven countries are: Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Singapore.
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[Photos by JK unless otherwise noted.]