Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the United States are now in people who have not been vaccinated, which is stunning evidence of how effective the injections can be and an indication that daily deaths – now numbering less than 300 – could be practically zero if everyone were eligible for a vaccine.
An Associated Press analysis of government data available from May showed that “superstar” infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of the more than 853,000 hospital admissions due to COVID-19. This is about 0.1 percent.
And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 deaths from COVID-19 in May were of fully vaccinated people. This translates to about 0.8 percent, or five deaths per day on average.
The Associated Press analyzed figures provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC itself did not estimate the percentage of hospitalizations and deaths in fully vaccinated people, citing limitations in the data.
Among them: Only about 45 countries have reported penetrating infections, and some are more aggressive than others in seeking out such cases. The data may underestimate such infections, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.
However, the general trend emerging from the data reflects what many health care authorities across the country are seeing and what leading experts are saying.
Earlier this month, Andy Slavett, the former Biden administration adviser on COVID-19, suggested that 98 to 99 percent of Americans who die from the novel coronavirus are not immune.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walinsky said Tuesday that the vaccine is so effective that “nearly every death, especially among adults, from COVID-19, at this point, is completely preventable.” She described these deaths as “particularly tragic”.
Deaths in the United States have fallen from a peak of more than 3,400 days on average in mid-January, one month after the vaccination campaign.
About 63 percent of all Americans eligible for the vaccine — those age 12 or older — have received at least one dose, and 53 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. While a vaccine is still scarce in most parts of the world, US supplies are so abundant and demand has fallen so dramatically that vaccines remain unused.
Experts expect preventable deaths to continue
Ross Bunny, a 68-year-old small business owner in Cheyenne, UT, was eligible for the vaccine in early February but did not get it. He died on June 4, infected and unvaccinated, after spending more than three weeks in hospital, his lungs filled with fluid. He was unable to swallow due to a stroke.
“He never came out, so he didn’t think he’d catch her,” said his grieving sister, Karen McKnight. “Why take the risk of not being vaccinated?” she asked.
Experts expect preventable deaths to continue, as unvaccinated pockets suffer outbreaks in the fall and winter.
Modeling suggests the nation will reach 1,000 deaths per day again next year, said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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In Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with only about 33 percent of the population fully protected, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are increasing.
“It’s sad to see someone go to hospital or die when this can be prevented,” Governor Asa Hutchinson wrote on Twitter, while urging people to get their shots.
In King County in Seattle, the Department of Public Health found only three deaths in the last 60-day period in fully vaccinated people. The rest, about 95% of the 62 deaths, did not have a vaccine or just one shot.
“These are all someone’s parents, grandparents, brothers and friends,” said Dr. Mark Del Piccaro, who helps lead the vaccination awareness program in King County. “There are still a lot of deaths, and they are preventable.”
In the St. Louis, Missouri area, more than 90 percent of hospitalized patients have not been vaccinated with COVID-19, said Dr. Alex Garza, the hospital director who runs a metropolitan area task force on the outbreak.
“The majority express some regret for not being vaccinated,” Garza said. “This is a very common crisis we hear from COVID patients.”
Concerns about messages, paid leave
George Washington epidemiologist David Michaels said stories of unvaccinated people dying may convince some people they should get vaccinated, but young people – the group least likely to get vaccinated – may be motivated more by a desire to protect their loved ones. The University’s School of Public Health is in the nation’s capital.
Others need paid time off to get the injections and deal with any side effects, Michaels said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration this month began requiring health care employers, including hospitals and nursing homes, to provide such leave. But Michaels, who headed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama, said the agency should have gone further and applied the rule to meat and poultry plants and other food operations as well as other places where workers are at risk.
Bagne, who lived alone, ran a business that helps people incorporate their businesses in Wyoming to get tax benefits. He was finishing work and planning to retire when he fell ill, emailing his sister in April about an illness that left him dizzy and disoriented.
He wrote: “No matter what. This mistake took a lot from me.”
With his health deteriorating, a neighbor finally convinced him to go to the hospital.
His sister said, “Why were the messages in his state so unclear that he didn’t understand the importance of the vaccine? He was a very smart man.”
“I wish he had gotten the vaccine, and I’m sad he didn’t understand how it could prevent him from getting COVID.”