Our battle with COVID-19 appears to be stumbling into a new minefield of our own making.
America had seen great progress against the coronavirus after a sprawling rollout of vaccines, which has helped overcome much of the damage caused by our unpreparedness last year. With more than 600,000 deaths related to COVID, the painful wreckage is surely still with us, but the vaccination effort helped turn the momentum around in the first half of 2021. President Joe Biden had expressed the goal of getting 70% of Americans with at least one dose of vaccine in their arms by July 4, and it seemed doable at one point.
Now, the process is facing resistance. There are those who remain dubious of the vaccine, suspicious of COVID hype and have little trust in science and scientists in general. They also staunchly defend their right not to get vaccinated. As a result, vaccinations have slowed at a level below the threshold of herd immunity.
This creates a dangerous vulnerability.
The Delta variant of COVID-19 is picking up steam, particularly in areas where vaccination rates have been low and resistance high. The variant has “pretty much taken over” in the U.S., said Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee.
As of this writing, Florida — where Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing the mantra “Don’t Fauci My Florida,” a slap at infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and his warnings about COVID — has 20% of all new U.S. COVID cases. And Missouri, another low-vaccination region, is seeing a dramatic surge in cases that is putting critical stress on medical facilities.
At this point, the vaccine still provides some protection. As Fauci pointed out Saturday, “When you start seeing what’s called ‘breakthrough infections,’ if you look carefully at them, the overwhelming majority of those are people who either have no symptoms or only very mild symptoms. So the vaccines are still very, very effective in preventing severe disease.”
However, the unvaccinated create a new front of problems.
Those who have refused vaccinations are more vulnerable to COVID, and that is reflected in recent U.S. statistics. According to Offit, 97% of people who are being hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 are not vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the more the coronavirus is allowed to circulate, the more variants can potentially develop, and there are no guarantees that a vaccine will be as effective against those evolving threats down the line.
Compounding this is the rampant misinformation and disinformation about COVID vaccines. These are flourishing on social media, so much so that a frustrated Biden told a reporter Friday that such anti-vaccine material is literally “killing people.”
Thus, it’s not a stretch to say the unvaccinated represent a health threat not only to themselves but also to those around them and, ultimately, to the general population.
We cannot let our guard down against COVID-19, for many dangers remain. Health and government officials at all levels must continue their efforts to push the vaccination process forward. Otherwise, we face more problems and more consequences that could be mostly avoidable if enough people do the sensible thing and get vaccinated.
It’s really up to us.