The vaccination rate in the US is starting to rise in accordance with the soaring rates of infection being observed in some states, in apparent acknowledgment that there is no more time to waste in taking steps to combat the virus.
Hospitals in the South, an area of the country where there is a great deal of vaccine hesitancy, are now becoming overrun with patients in waves that have not been seen since the worst days of the pandemic.
The White House’s coronavirus coordinator Dr. Jeff Zients told reporters from the Associated Press that some states with the most new infections are now seeing more people line up for vaccinations than are doing so in other states where the case counts are lower.
Health officials say that these states include vaccine hesitancy hotbeds such as Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada.
“The fourth surge is real” as vaccination rate in US inches upward
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stated to listeners on a local radio show that “The fourth surge is real, and the numbers are quite frightening at the moment.”
He added “There’s no doubt that we are going in the wrong direction, and we’re going there in a hurry.”
His state reported a total of 2,843 new cases on Thursday, just a day after a whopping 5,388 cases were detected, the third-highest amount since the beginning of the pandemic.
Giving credence to the worry that the new infections are serious, the number of hospitalizations are also spiking now, from 242 on June 19 to 913 according to the latest figures.
Just 36% of Louisiana’s population has received both coronavirus doses, far under the national average of 56%.
Warner Thomas, the President and CEO of the Ochsner Health System, which covers Louisiana and Mississippi, admitted that his facilities had reported surge in interest in the inoculations amounting to as much as 10 to 15% over the past several weeks.
“We see every person we get vaccinated now as a victory”
Now, the system is administering inoculations in places such as churches, malls and even the New Orleans airport.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kathleen Baumgartner, the director of infection prevention and control for Ochsner, said that the projections show that its ICU’s might fill up soon given the current rates of infection. “We see every person we get vaccinated now as a victory,” she states.
The Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recently stopped taking transfers of those from other hospitals in the area because they simply do not have the capacity, according to Dr. Catherine O’Neal, the chief medical officer and an infections disease specialist there.
She admitted that the most shocking part of the latest spike in coronavirus numbers has been the speed at which the coronavirus has raced through the area, with caseloads tripling within the last week.
The state of Missouri, which stands only after Arkansas and Louisiana in the the number of new cases over the past two weeks, now offers an incentive program for inoculations. There are now $10,000 prizes for 900 different vaccine lottery winners. Missouri is currently approximately 10 percentage points behind the national inoculation rate.
In some areas of the state, including Springfield, hospitals are already under a great deal of strain, almost reaching the highs that they did during the worst of the pandemic.
Only 2% of hospitalized patients in one system have been vaccinated
“Younger, relatively healthy and unvaccinated. If this describes you, please consider vaccination” was the message Tweeted by Erik Frederick, the chief administrative officer of Mercy Hospital Springfield.
He went on to note that currently, half of the patients in his system are from the age of 21 to 59 — but just 2% of them have been vaccinated.
Some parts of Missouri have incredibly low rate s of inoculation, in the teens; the infection rates there are spiking and these spikes are heading northward toward the Kansas City area.
“I don’t want to keep putting my life on the line just because people don’t want to get vaccinated or listen to what health professionals are recommending,” stated Pascaline Muhindra, a registered nurse who has been on the hospitals front line for more than a year now.
“A lot of them don’t believe in Covid-19 to begin with. It is incredibly frustrating. You are helping someone that doesn’t even believe that the illness that they have is real.”
Emergency physician Dr. Jason Wilson of Tampa General Hospital in Florida says he is also frustrated with the status quo, with the average age of his patients plummeting from a high of the 70’s early on in the pandemic to now, when it is in the mid-40s.
“I spent a lot of time this fall and last summer saying, ’We’ve got to do these things, these social mitigation strategies until we get that vaccine. Just hang in there,” Wilson told the AP.
And for some time, hospitalization rates did indeed decline as he had hoped. After a while, however, and as the Delta variant claimed a hold on the country, he stated “Things just fell flat” and the vaccination rate in the US tapered off.
Health officials from the overwhelmingly red state of Utah reported on Wednesday that almost 300 people were now hospitalized with the coronavirus, representing the highest number the rural state has seen in five months. Now, intensive care units in Utah are at 81.5% capacity.
In Arizona, where only 44% of residents are fully vaccinated, officials from the largest hospital system called on the public to become vaccinated, citing an increase in patients in their system who are now seriously ill seriously ill. Dr. Michael White, of Valleywise Health, told reporters that previous to two weeks ago, he and his colleagues were for the most part treating people who had presented with moderate symptoms; now patients arrive at their doors already acutely ill.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases in the health policy department at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, explains that “This Delta at the moment is honing in on largely unvaccinated persons.”
This much more contagious virus variant, which originally was diagnosed in India, now is responsible for an estimated 83% of coronavirus samples that have been sequenced, or genetically identified, in the United States at the present time.
It is by far the most predominant strain in every part of the country now, and “spreading with incredible efficiency,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters at the White House this week.
Compared to the original virus, as well as all the other mutations of it, she stated that the variant is not only more aggressive but much more transmissible as well, calling it “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of.”
She warned the American public “We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic. We need to come together as one nation.”
At this point, despite local and state mandates calling for re-masking — sometimes even amongst the vaccinated — the USCDC has not altered its guidance that those who are vaccinated people do not need to wear masks.
However, in Georgia, another hotbed of vaccine hesitancy, Atlanta Public Schools announced on Thursday that it will implement a policy of “universal mask wearing” in all of the system’s schools when fall classes begin in a matter of a month from now.
As of today, only 18% of eligible students in the Atlanta school system are fully vaccinated, despite the nation opening to vaccination for all those 12 and over much earlier this Spring. According to officials, 58% of the school system’s employees have said they are either fully vaccinated or plan to become soon.
Considering the low rate of vaccination among its students, the school system thought it had no option but to call for universal masking. “Given our low vaccination rates and increasing community spread, the CDC acknowledges that universal masking would be appropriate,” the system officials said in itheir statement.
The surge of the Delta variant comes after some states, including several in the South, enacted laws banning schools and local governments to require people to wear masks. Now, some Democratic lawmakers in Arkansas are urging the governor, and Republicans who control the state Legislature, to lift the bans.
Five of six US Olympians are fully inoculated
Meanwhile, the United States’ Olympic team’s physician revealed on Friday, the day of the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympic Games, that five out of six, or 83 percent, of the nation’s Olympic athletes have been vaccinated for the coronavirus.
“Eighty-three percent is actually a substantial number and we’re quite happy with it,” stated Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s medical chief.
Although some may shrink from knowing that any athletes traveling abroad during this most recent wave of the coronavirus, especially now that the Delta variant is surging across the planet, have not been vaccinated, the percentage is much higher than the average number of those in the country overall who are fully vaccinated, which as of today comes to 56% of those over the age of 12.
The inoculation rates are much higher in the northern states, with Vermont topping the list at 67% who have received all their coronavirus vaccine doses.
Trials show efficacy of one shot as vaccination rate in US creeps up
Also on Friday, a Canadian study announced the results of its study into the efficacy of having just one coronavirus vaccine dose, saying that just one dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna or Oxford/AstraZeneca product offers higher protection against symptomatic illness from the Delta variant than has been proven in previous studies.
The study, in which participants are exposed to the Delta variant as they go about their daily lives in the real world, was announced by AstraZeneca today but was first published on July 16. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.
The Canadian trials compared the efficacy of the BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca inoculations against several variants of concern that are circulating around the world.
The authors of the study said that they showed that even one single dose of any of the three vaccines authorized for emergency use in both the US and Canada provide “considerable protection against symptomatic infection and severe outcomes.”
Protection against the Delta variant was 56 percent effective against symptomatic infection after just one dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer inoculation. The Moderna proved to be 72 percent effective in such circumstances, and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67 percent effective, according to the study.
The surprising findings are much more favorable than those coming out of a study which was published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, using data from Public Health England.
That study showed that that the effectiveness of the BioNTech/Pfizer shot amounted to just 36 percent after a single dose, while one shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca product provided 30 percent protection.
Regarding more severe illness that would result in hospitalization or death, the Canadian study showed that just the one dose of BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca inoculations proved to be 78 percent, 96 percent and 88 percent effective, respectively, against the Delta virus mutation.
The Beta and Gamma variants, first diagnosed in South Africa and Brazil respectively, were much more powerful when encountering the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with that product proving to be of much lower efficacy.
Its success rate proved to be 48 percent against symptomatic illness against those variants. The BioNTech/Pfizer shot showed 60 percent efficacy and the Moderna product was 77 percent effective against the Beta and Gamma mutations.