Low US Vaccination Rates Allow COVID to Continue to Circulate and Spike
by Yehudit Garmaise
Almost 900 more Americans have already died from COVID in 2021 than they did in 2020, and the year still has one more month to go.
In 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recorded 386,233 deaths involving COVID, compared with 2020’s COVID death toll of 385,343.
This year’s number of COVID deaths was higher, not because the vaccines don’t work, but because not enough Americans have taken it, thereby allowing the virus to continue to circulate and mutate into ever more virulent strains, such as highly contagious Delta variant, public experts say.
Although New York City’s Health Department reports that 69% of the city’s residents are fully vaccinated, nationwide, only 59% of Americans have gotten both of their shots.
If enough people got vaccinated, health experts say, the COVID pandemic would transform into an endemic, which means that the virus would still regularly circulate, but at much lower levels.
“It would probably take an 85 to 90% vaccination rate to make the coronavirus endemic,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center, who added that while previous infection does create some measure of immunity, that immunity is not as strong and durable as the protection that vaccines provide.
Although endemic viruses have periodic increases and decreases, once a large enough portion of the population is vaccinated, the virus no longer spikes in the dramatic and devastating cycles that occurred throughout the pandemic.
A premature return to normal daily living, especially among the unvaccinated, another reason that COVID is still circulating among us at higher levels that are again causing rates in increase.
“We have the very unfortunate situation of not a high level of vaccine coverage and basically, in most places, a return to normal behaviors that put people at greater risk of coming in contact with the virus,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the New York Times. “If you take no protections whatsoever, you have a virus that is capable of moving faster and you have dangerous gaps in immunity, that adds up to: unfortunately, a lot of continued serious illness and deaths.”
If not enough people are vaccinated and most people abandon all COVID precautions, then the virus will continue to circulate and transmission rates will continue to increase, Dr. Gounder said.
COVID-19 vaccine record card. Credit: NIAID