In more and more US states with low vaccination rates, Covid cases are rising, exposing residents to the risk of “unnecessary” infections, hospitalizations and possibly death as the Delta variant rips across the country, according to US health officials.
“After several weeks of falling case numbers followed by a long plateau, we are now seeing an increase in the number of cases in many parts of the country,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC assistant director, infectious diseases, on a call hosted Tuesday by an industry group. Hospitalization rates, which tend to lag behind confirmed cases, are similarly starting to rise, he said.
A CNBC analysis of US vaccination rates and Covid cases shows that there are 463 counties in the United States with high rates of infection – which have reported at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the last week – more than double the US rate . The majority of these counties, 80%, vaccinated less than 40% of their 23 million residents, analysis shows data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins University.
More than half of the counties in Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana have low vaccination rates and increased Covid cases, according to CNBC analysis. These three states had some of the highest cases per capita in the country in the past seven days as the spread of the Delta variant increased in southwest Missouri.
“There will continue to be an increase in cases among unvaccinated Americans and in communities with low vaccination rates, especially given the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant,” Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, told a news conference last week . Virtually all Covid hospital admissions and deaths, 99.5%, occur in those who have not been vaccinated, US officials say.
In fact, nationwide cases are on the rise again as the highly transmissible delta variant asserts itself as the dominant strain in the US. The seven-day average of newly confirmed Covid cases has risen to about 23,300 per day, almost double the weekly average, according to data from Johns Hopkins before.
The rise of the Delta variant has spurred officials in some states like Mississippi to issue new calls for masking and social distancing, especially among older and more vulnerable residents.
“When the Delta strain emerged (in Utah) it quickly became the dominant strain, and by dominant I don’t mean 50%. For the last full week of data, more than 80% of the sequence viruses were Delta viruses and so far this week are it is 92% of all variants, “said Dr. Andrew T. Pavia, director of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine, in a call hosted Tuesday by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“If you think about what it means to have such a rapid virus takeover, it means that it is the most suitable virus, that it spreads more efficiently, that it spreads in unvaccinated pockets, and many diseases cause a lot of stress inside” , he added.
Mississippi has given at least one injection to just 37% of its population, making it last in the country. Officials there urged people over 65 and immunocompromised residents to avoid indoor mass gatherings in the next two weeks in the event of “significant transmission” of the Delta variant in the coming weeks.
“We don’t want anyone to die unnecessarily,” said Dr. Mississippi State Health Commissioner Thomas Dobbs during a news conference Friday.
According to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as successful in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths from the Delta variant.
Breakthrough infections are rare, and around 75% of people who die or are hospitalized after being vaccinated with Covid are over 65 years old, according to the CDC.
“Preliminary data for the past six months suggests that 99.5% of deaths from Covid-19 in the states have occurred in unvaccinated people … the suffering and loss we see now are almost entirely preventable,” Walensky said Earlier this month.
In addition to the risk of disease for Americans who have not yet received a vaccination, unvaccinated sections of the population could threaten the country’s ability to control the pandemic. Continued transmission of the virus means additional opportunities for new variants to emerge with the ability to bypass vaccine protection.
While 48% of Americans are fully vaccinated, the pace of daily vaccinations has slowed significantly in recent months. According to CDC data, an average of about 515,000 vaccinations were administered daily for the past week, after a steady decline from the peak of more than 3 million daily vaccinations.
President Joe Biden renewed his administration’s efforts to increase vaccination rates after failing to meet his July 4th goals, with a focus on youth and increasing availability in places like doctor’s offices and work environments.
Nearly 1,600 counties in 40 states with 72 million people have vaccinated less than 40% of their population, according to CNBC analysis. Six states where vaccination data were not available at the county level were excluded from the analysis.