Fear of the delta variant, the most contagious strain of the coronavirus, has reignited vaccination in the United States, which had lost ground since mid-April and has become a symbol of warning to health officials across the country and the whole world.
Data released by the U.S. government shows that the average number of people vaccinated per day in the country has increased by nearly 70% in recent weeks, with peaks not seen since early July. In states with the highest rates of new Covid-19 cases, especially in the South, the daily rate of newly vaccinated people has more than doubled – in some areas it has increased by 300%. Finally, among young people aged 12 to 17, who represent one of the lowest demands for vaccines, the growth was 50%.
The assessment by the White House and infectious disease experts is that the new epidemics, which primarily affect unvaccinated people, could be the missing impetus to change the attitudes of people hesitant to get vaccinated – about a third of Americans say no want to take any dose.
More skeptical analysts, for their part, believe that it is still premature to assert that the increase in the rate of vaccination is sustained and sufficient to, on its own, lead to so-called collective immunity, when 75% of the population is vaccinated.
Professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan and adviser to the FDA, the US drug regulatory agency, Arnold Monto agrees that the fear of the delta has led more people to take the vaccine, but says the new outbreaks combine also another factor that could help the path to collective immunity.
“When they are infected, people are immune. It will be a matter of adding the infected to the vaccinated and seeing transmission reduced by infection and vaccination.”
The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a moving average of more than 72,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day last week, a 44% increase from the previous week. Deaths from the disease have increased by about 25% over the same period – a daily average of 300 – and hospitalizations by 41%.
According to the CDC, 93.4% of new transmissions were caused by the delta in the last two weeks of July and 97% of those hospitalized – and most of the deaths – had not received a vaccine.
The variant was first identified in India and has spread rapidly in the southern and midwestern United States, pockets of vaccine resistance.
Among the barriers to getting Americans vaccinated are the imbalance between racial groups – blacks and Latinos are historically more resistant to vaccines – political differences (most Republicans say they don’t want to be immunized) and misinformation.
Coordinator of the White House response to the pandemic, Jeff Zients linked the worsening of the Covid-19 picture in the country to the increase in demand for vaccines, including in regions where vaccination is slower, predominantly ruled by Republicans.
“Since the week of July 5, there has been a steady increase in the number of people vaccinated in the United States,” he said at a press conference Monday (2). “Louisiana saw a 302% increase in the average number of new vaccines per day; Mississippi 250%; Alabama 215% and Arkansas 206%.
A New York Times survey shows Mississippi is the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the United States: only 51% of the adult population has taken at least one dose. In Louisiana, where intensive care units have resumed functioning at bed limits, the rate is 55%, while Alabama has 55.2% and Arkansas 59.7% of partially immunized adults.
South Florida and Texas are also joining the records for new cases (a third of all transmissions in the country last week were in both states), although they calculate slightly better vaccination rates than the others. In Florida, 70.2% of the adult population has taken at least one dose, while in Texas the rate is 66%, but the two governors – both Republicans – refuse to reinstate preventive measures, such as wearing of the mask in the closed places, in the middle of the epidemics.
Earlier this week, the United States hit the 70% mark for adults with at least one dose of the vaccine, nearly a month later than Biden had promised. Zients highlighted concern for the delta as a determining factor in achieving the goal, even later. “Americans see the risk and impact of not being vaccinated and are responding with action.”
About 193.7 million have been vaccinated with at least one dose in the United States (58.4% of the total population), of which nearly 166 million have been fully immunized (50%). However, 90 million have yet to take the vaccine and, experts say, have become the gateway to the delta.
In an attempt to revive the vaccination campaign – which saw the average number of daily requests drop from 3 million in April to less than 500,000 in July – several states, municipalities and the federal government have launched a series of incentives, with prizes, gifts and even a payment of US $ 100 for those who took the vaccine, but so far the measures had not generated a significant change in government accounts.
Earlier this week, White House Covid-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar celebrated on his social media the highest average of first doses given in a single day in more than a month: 441,000.
The number is still far from the records seen in April – as many people have already been vaccinated, the drop was expected, but not abruptly, with so many Americans going without their doses.
There is still not enough data and research to fully understand the delta. But even though there are reports of contamination from fully immune people – albeit in a minority and underage – US authorities are treating new epidemics as the “unvaccinated” pandemic.
Given the delta’s advance, the country has started to see cases of people who had not been vaccinated and, after being infected, they apologize.
“People are afraid. The disease is spreading so widely that Americans are learning how dangerous it is,” says Monto.