As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, there is a general feeling across much of the region that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. With that, this upcoming celebration of our nation’s independence will also be a de facto celebration of escaping the clutches of a once-in-a-century health crisis that has thoroughly disrupted our lives.
But any such belief that the pandemic is over may be premature.
Recent cautions stating as much are now morphing into warnings from health officials as new variants are beginning to make their impact on vulnerable populations both here and around the globe. As of Friday, the delta variant had been reported in 92 countries.
In recent days, several countries have deployed new and renewed measures in the face of this rapidly spreading variant. Australia is seeing more lockdowns, including in Sydney, due to the variant threat. Also, Israel, which has had nearly an 80% vaccination rate to get the first COVID wave under control, is seeing a new surge, with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reporting that nearly 50% of new cases are turning up among people who are already vaccinated.
On top of this, there are also reports of a variant of a delta variant called Delta-plus, that has been found in COVID-ravaged India and is starting to also show up around the world.
So, as weary as we are of this COVID fight, there remains cause for concern. And as we saw last year, the problems being faced around the world will almost certainly find their way to these shores, to this heartland, to our own communities and families.
Last Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged those who are fully vaccinated to continue embracing the safety measures that have become part of our lives the past 15 months. That includes wearing a mask and practicing social distancing measures.
“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products. “Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission.”
Yet, getting vaccinated remains a top priority, for it still can provide a defense. In reporting on the Israel surge, Business Insider noted, “Although the infections among vaccinated people have alarmed Israelis, the infections do not appear to be as severe as they are in unvaccinated people.”
This comes as America’s vaccination effort, which was robust in the winter and first half of spring, has slowed considerably. The president’s stated goal of reaching 70% of the eligible population being at least partially vaccinated by July 4 will not be reached, although officials believe it will probably happen yet this summer.
Whether the variant threat will re-energize the U.S. vaccination effort is unknown at this point, but the current headlines and worries should serve as a warning. We’re better equipped and better trained to deal with it now than we were at the dawn of the pandemic — we know how to persevere — but this war is still far from over.