The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday (7/16/2021) that new cases of Covid-19 are up by nearly 70% in just a week. Hospitalizations are up by nearly 36%.
Surges are most pronounced in areas where vaccination rates are low, but there are also increases in places such as Los Angeles and New York City, where vaccination rates are higher.
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a briefing Friday. “If you remain unvaccinated, you are at risk.”
Why Are Infection Rates Increasing?
Viruses mutate all the time, including the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus at the center of the Covid-19 pandemic. During replication, a virus often undergoes genetic changes that may create what are called variants. Some mutations weaken the virus; others may yield an advantage that enables it to proliferate. While previous variants have circulated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new variety, called the Delta variant, is significantly more transmissible and is contributing to the rapid spread of the virus. The Delta variant has been found to be around 225% more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 strains. According to NPR, one recent preprint study from China found that people who are infected with delta have — on average — about 1,000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tracts than those infected with the original strain, and are infectious earlier in the course of their illness.
But what about if you are fully vaccinated? For those that have received both doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are at significantly less risk of severe illness or hospitalization from the virus, should you experience a break-through case.
Break-through cases, when a fully vaccinated person becomes infected with the virus, are still relatively rare. It is important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing illness and break- through cases are expected. Consequently, there will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized, or die from COVID-19. Asymptomatic infections among vaccinated people will also occur.
But, the CDC puts it in perspective- of the more than 159 million people that have been fully vaccinated (as of 7/12/21), 5,492 patients have been hospitalized or died due to break-through cases. That’s .0035% of the total vaccinated population; it is clear that vaccination provides significant protection.
Conversely, nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.
Vaccines are effective and safe
Side effects of vaccines vary from very mild, to more rare, serious reactions. If any side effects are experienced at all, the most common are:
On the arm where you got the shot:
Throughout the rest of your body:
- Muscle pain
The CDC is monitoring all reported side-effects, you can read updated information, here. Rarely, people develop Guillain-Barré syndrome (where the peripheral nervous system is damaged, resulting in rapid onset muscle weakness), clotting issues like thrombosis, and other more serious side effects.
But keep in mind these issues impact thousands every day who have not received the vaccine. The risk of any of these outcomes from the COVID vaccine is less than .1%. The risk of consequences due to COVID is significantly higher, especially with the new delta variant.
Available evidence suggests an association, not a causal relationship, for Guillain-Barré syndrome with only the J&J vaccine. 3,000 to 6,000 people develop it every year after a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. Most fully recover. It’s also associated with the seasonal flu and shingles vaccines. There have been 100 preliminary reports of GBS out of over 12.8 million J&J vaccines given, or a 0.128% risk.
Thrombosis (which inhibits blood flow), for example, causes death in roughly 100,000 people in the U.S. yearly; that 28 cases (as of May 21,2021) of thrombosis have been reported out of the 159 million that have been fully vaccinated is an incredibly small amount. The risk of developing such side effects is far outweighed by the protection the vaccines provide.
Another example is with the bleeding disorder idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, recently better known as immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). It is a bleeding disorder in which antibodies in the immune system attack blood platelets in the body, has been linked to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (widely used in Europe and currently in stage 3 trials in the U.S.). Medical providers and researchers point out that the risk of developing such a disorder are not unlike the risk with other vaccines, such as those for measles, hepatitis B, and influenza.
It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after the single-dose J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. You should keep using all preventative measures such as wearing a mask, avoiding large crowds, physical distancing, etc., protect yourself and others until you are fully vaccinated.
You can read more about the Covid-19 vaccines, here.
If you have more detailed questions about the vaccines and your personal health, please speak to your provider.
If you aren’t yet vaccinated, please consider doing so to avoid the often serious consequences the virus can have on your health or that of others around you.
Even if you had the COVID infection, a vaccine is recommended to achieve maximal protection from getting reinfected because individual immune responses have varied depending on the severity of the infection. Regardless of the response, studies show those who were vaccinated after being infected generated a significantly higher antibody response against viral mutations. According to Micheal Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University, “They basically become bulletproof.”
The only way to end the pandemic is by reaching herd immunity- where enough people are protected so that the virus in question can’t find enough people to infect, and transmission ends. Percentages vary depending on the culprit- for example, 94% is required to stop measles from spreading. Experts believe it will take 70% of the U.S.population being vaccinated to be rid of Covid-19. Until herd immunity is reached, the virus will keep pinging around the globe, infecting susceptible individuals and allowing more devastating mutations to develop.
Every day we miss this mark current vaccine efficacy is eroded. The only way to end this pandemic is to build a wall large enough to ensure COVID doesn’t survive.