Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are in now occurring in people who aren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been.
An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May shows that ‘breakthrough’ infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,00 hospitalizations.
What’s more, only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people, which translates to about 0.8 percent, or five deaths per day on average.
The data shows the value of the COVID-19 vaccine and are an indication that deaths per day – now averaging 300 per day – could be practically zero if everyone eligible was immunized.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that almost all deaths from COVID-19 at this point are preventable due to the availability of the vaccines
The AP analyzed figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which itself had not estimated what percentage of hospitalizations and deaths are in fully vaccinated people.
The analysis found that only 45 states report breakthrough infections, so there may be some undercounting in the case total among vaccinated people.
Currently, it is believed that breakthrough infections account for under 0.1 percent of new COVID cases.
Breakthrough cases are often less severe, though, as antibodies supplied by the vaccine help combat the worst effects of the virus.
‘Nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable,’ said CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the Biden administration on COVID-19, suggested that 98 percent to 99 percent of the Americans dying of the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
Cases and deaths in the United States have plummeted in recent months, as more and more Americans get vaccinated.
The nation is recording about 80,000 new cases a week at the moment, a large drop from the peak of the pandemic in January, where more than 1.75 million cases were recorded in a week.
The U.S. also has not recorded more than 1,000 deaths in a single day in more than three months.
Credit for the lowering cases goes to the COVID-19 vaccines.
More than 65 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with around half being fully vaccinated.
While vaccines remain scarce in much of the world, the U.S. supply is so abundant and demand has slumped so dramatically that shots sit unused.
Ross Bagne, a 68-year-old small-business owner in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was eligible for the vaccine in early February but didn’t get it.
He died June 4, infected and unvaccinated, after spending more than three weeks in the hospital, his lungs filling with fluid.
He was unable to swallow because of a stroke.
‘He never went out, so he didn´t think he would catch it,’ said his grieving sister, Karen McKnight.
She wondered: ‘Why take the risk of not getting vaccinated?’
The preventable deaths will continue, experts predict, with unvaccinated pockets of the nation experiencing outbreaks in the fall and winter.
Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said modeling suggests the nation will hit 1,000 deaths per day again next year.
Many of these unvaccinated pockets are in the southeastern United States, where states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and others are struggling to get their populations vaccinated.
First Lady Jill Biden visited Mississippi and Tennessee this week, promoting the vaccine and hoping to sway the state’s unvaccinated populations to receive the shots.
While the vaccines have contributed to lower case and death rates, people who live in pockets of the country with a lower vaccination rate are at risk of experiencing another outbreak in their community. Many states in the south have had trouble getting people vaccinated
Mississippi (36 percent of population at least partially vaccinated) has the lowest percentage of people vaccinated of any U.S. state.
Tennessee and Arkansas (41 percent each) are not doing much better.
For comparison, Vermont (73 percent) leads the nation and has more than twice the percentage of people vaccinated.
Over half, 54 percent, of all Americans have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Delta variant – an extremely contagious variant of the virus that originated in India – is on the rise as well, having been recorded in 41 U.S. states.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, predicts that the variant accounts for 20 percent of active cases in America, and will be the dominant strain of the virus in a matter of weeks.
While the vaccines are believed to be able to protect from the Delta variant, unvaccinated people will be at risk – especially if they live in a largely unvaccinated area.
In Arkansas cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising.
‘It is sad to see someone go to the hospital or die when it can be prevented,’ Gov. Asa Hutchinson tweeted as he urged people to get their shots.
First Lady Jill Biden visited Mississippi and Tennessee – two of the state’s with the lowest percentage of people vaccinated – to promote the vaccine
In the St. Louis area, more than 90 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated, said Dr Alex Garza, a hospital administrator who directs a metropolitan-area task force on the outbreak.
‘The majority of them express some regret for not being vaccinated,’ Garza said.
‘That´s a pretty common refrain that we´re hearing from patients with COVID.’
The stories of unvaccinated people dying may convince some people they should get the shots, but young adults – the group least likely to be vaccinated – may be motivated more by a desire to protect their loved ones, said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University’s school of public health in the nation’s capital.