- Experts are expressing concerns about the risks unvaccinated people are taking, even with declining COVID-19 cases in the United States.
- The concerns are heightened by the delta variant, which is more contagious and potentially more dangerous than other strains.
- Experts note that with more people getting vaccinated, the novel coronavirus isn’t circulating as much as it had been earlier in the pandemic.
The coronavirus keeps parts of the world on edge, while others nearly declare victory over COVID-19 and reopen businesses.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared this week that the most populous state in the United States is once again open for business as he lifted most physical distancing and mask mandates.
“California is open again,” Newsom said at the entrance of Universal Studios in Los Angeles while flanked by yellow pill-shaped minions and Optimus Prime.
California’s reopening comes as 56 percent of its residents are considered fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Nevertheless, California and other parts of the world aren’t in some protective bubble and remain vulnerable to the pandemic.
The Washington Post found that cases of COVID-19 are rising in places where vaccination rates remain low and falling where more people are getting their shots.
While the available vaccines are proving to be highly effective at keeping people from developing severe cases of COVID-19, practically all new infections in the United States that result in hospitalization are people who aren’t vaccinated.
Also, experts are keeping their eyes on the spread of mutations of the virus, such as the delta variant, which has shown to be more contagious and produce more severe symptoms. That variant originated in India, where a wave of infections besieged the country last month.
While countries such as Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States boast of having more than half of their populations with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, India’s numbers remain below 20 percent.
Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wrote on his blog June 17 that the delta variant is now spreading in at least 62 countries, including the United States. A few weeks ago, he wrote, delta accounted for 2 percent of cases in the United States, but that’s now up to 6 percent and “will continue growing rapidly as a proportion of all infections, particularly in areas of the country and demographic groups that have lower vaccination rates.”
“The good news is that people who are fully vaccinated… are likely well-protected against the variants identified so far, including the delta variant — particularly when it comes to severe illness,” Frieden wrote. “However, people who are only partially vaccinated are only partially protected.”
The spread of the delta and other variants has experts concerned that unvaccinated people could pass on the more potent and dangerous versions of the virus in the coming months.
This is especially concerning because the current COVID-19 vaccines with emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration can be administered only to people 12 years old and older.
So, what are the odds of developing a severe case of COVID-19 in the next 3 months if you are not vaccinated?
Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says he’s not even sure that question deserves an answer because it evades the real question: Why is anyone eligible not yet vaccinated?
“Furthermore, the question ignores the far more important question of whether getting COVID means getting mild or asymptomatic COVID versus getting severe or fatal COVID,” Cutler told Healthline. “And the question does not account for the many sources of individual variability and statistical uncertainty which might impact whether certain individuals get COVID.”
Cutler said that before vaccines were available, a person in the United States had about a 1 in 10 chance of developing COVID-19 disease over the course of a year, but those risks could change as precautions are relaxed.
“For most of the past year, there was a variable degree of masking, social distancing, and lockdown restrictions,” he said. “Now, society is opening up, which theoretically increases [an unvaccinated person’s] risk of infection.”
Even though vaccine supply has outpaced demand in the United States, certain factors continue to increase the chance of an unvaccinated person contracting the novel coronavirus and developing a severe case of COVID-19.
Cutler says this includes disadvantaged groups and people in lower socioeconomic classes, who experience COVID-19 more often than wealthy white or Asian people.
“This may be due to the jobs they hold, their living conditions, or other social determinants of health,” he said.
Also, another reason may be inequities in healthcare.
The 7-day rolling average of new cases of COVID-19 is lower in the United States than any other time in the past year, so people’s chances of coming in contact with someone with the coronavirus are lower.
“Since about half the U.S. population is immune due to vaccination, this eliminates many chances of acquiring infection,” Cutler said. “Many people carry some immunity from past COVID infection, so these are additional people who are unlikely to transmit infection now, although they might have transmitted it in the past.”
As the United States and other countries attempt to reach a level of immunity to the novel coronavirus, Cutler and other experts continue to urge people to get vaccinated. Innoculation protects not only the recipient but also those around them, which “benefits society as a whole, allowing a faster return to a normal life for everyone,” he said.
“People around the world are desperate to receive COVID vaccines,” Cutler said. “It is incomprehensible to me that people would waste their time calculating the odds of getting COVID in the next 3 months if not vaccinated rather than figuring out how they can get a vaccine as soon as possible.”