The other story in the news this week is vaccine breakthroughs. In the halls of the White House, at the Olympic Village in Japan, and in the pages of every newspaper, there have been stories of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 even though they are fully vaccinated. Combined with (rightly) dire warnings about the effects of the delta variant, and a pivot in some right-wing media sources to “see, vaccines don’t work”, it would be easy to assume that vaccine breakthroughs are to blame. for some significant part of the rising tide.
They are not. As everyone from Anthony Fauci to President Joe Biden has made it clear, what we are seeing now is an unvaccinated pandemic. Breakthroughs, while they do occur, are only a tiny part of the bigger picture.
There are two graphs that show the changing nature of the unvaccinated (PU) pandemic from the old P. The first is a graph of new cases each day, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control.
The second is a chart of COVID-19-related deaths in the United States, also from the CDC.
This second graph shows a slight increase over the past week, and deaths always necessarily follow new cases. But the increase in deaths is both smaller and later than in previous waves of cases. For example, in November, when cases increased by 68% in the first two weeks of the month, deaths increased by almost the same percentage. But in July, with cases rising more than 250%, deaths rose 30%. Losing over 250 Americans a day to COVID-19 is certainly nothing to brag about. However, this reflects how Americans over 65 are 80% vaccinated, depriving those most vulnerable to serious illness of disease. The delta variant appears to be more virulent when it comes to children and young adults compared to previous iterations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but not enough to make up for the difference made by removing the older population from the table.
What is happening in the UK is an even more dramatic demonstration of this effect. Despite a huge increase in the number of new cases, the increase in deaths has been much smaller.
Thus, 97% of new hospitalizations concern the unvaccinated. And 99.5% of deaths are among the unvaccinated. But fortunately, so far at least, those deaths have not come close to matching the levels seen when COVID-19 had the general population. This dramatic UK graphic comes despite the most common vaccine being the AstraZeneca / Oxford version, which is said to be less effective than Pfizer / BioNTech or Moderna.
As The Washington Post points out, the rate of new cases in states like Missouri is actually as high as it ever was at the peak in January… except those vaccinated are not participating. This rate continues to increase. The unvaccinated not only catch COVID-19 as easily as they did in January, with the delta variant now accounting for 83% of all cases, they catch it faster. As the To post reports: “The country’s covid-19-free summer is getting wild for the half of the nation that is still not fully vaccinated.”
Applying that same adjustment to the nation, the rate of new COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people is already at “peak” levels and continues to rise. “The adjusted national hospitalization rate hit a point last observed in April, and the death rate is comparable to unadjusted figures for May.”
When the numbers show more than 6,000 groundbreaking cases that have been hospitalized, that sounds like a lot. But this means that half of the population, including 80% of the most vulnerable population, contributed only 3%. Cases of rupture are very rare. And when these cases occur, many studies have shown that vaccinated people have a lower viral load in their nasal passages than unvaccinated people. This is not a guarantee, but it is a good indicator that the vaccinated are much less likely to transmit the disease, whether to the vaccinated or to the unvaccinated.
Here’s another look at UK data comparing this huge new wave of cases to the country’s previous record, this time broken down by age group.
It’s incredible. It’s just grandiose. This is exactly what the good news on vaccines should look like.
Now we just have to harass, cajole, threaten or shame the other half of the population to get vaccinated. Because even though the number of deaths could be declining:
- The United States and the United Kingdom are seeing the enormous health care costs associated with this new wave of disease.
- The long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unknown, but it is already clear that many people will have persistent disabilities that could last for years.
- The more we continue to have huge levels of cases, the better the chance that there will be new, more evasive variants.
- Children cannot get vaccinated and children do not deserve to get sick just because adults are fools.
And don’t forget: support the export of existing vaccine stocks as well as the relaxation of intellectual property laws around these vaccines. We can’t stop it in the United States unless we stop it around the world.