Fri | Jul 30, 2021
United States

Nearly all COVID deaths now among unvaccinated

Published:Friday | June 25, 2021 | 12:11 AM
Karen McKnight stands in her backyard last Saturday in Sammamish, Washington, holding two books written by her brother Ross Bagne of Cheyenne, Wyoing. Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the United States now are in people who weren’t vaccinated like Bagne, a
Karen McKnight stands in her backyard last Saturday in Sammamish, Washington, holding two books written by her brother Ross Bagne of Cheyenne, Wyoing. Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the United States now are in people who weren’t vaccinated like Bagne, a staggering demonstration of how effective the vaccines have been.

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the US now are among people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.

An Associated Press (AP) analysis of available government data from May shows that “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,000 COVID-19 hospitalisations. That’s about 0.1 per cent.

And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people. That translates to about 0.8 per cent, or five deaths per day on average.

The AP analysed figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC itself has not estimated what percentage of hospitalisations and deaths are among fully vaccinated people, citing limitations in the data.

Among them: Only about 45 states report breakthrough infections, and some are more aggressive than others in looking for such cases. So the data probably understates such infections, CDC officials said.

Still, the overall trend that emerges from the data echoes what many healthcare authorities are seeing around the country and what top experts are saying.

Earlier this month, Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the Biden administration on COVID-19, suggested that 98 per cent to 99 per cent of the Americans dying of the coronavirus are unvaccinated.

And CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that the vaccine is so effective that “nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable”. She called such deaths “particularly tragic”.

Deaths in the US have plummeted from a peak of more than 3,400 a day on average in mid-January, one month into the vaccination drive.

About 63 per cent of all vaccine-eligible Americans — those 12 and older — have received at least one dose, and 53 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. While vaccine remains scarce in much of the world, the US supply is so abundant, and demand has slumped so dramatically, that shots sit unused.

Ross Bagne, a 68-year-old small business owner in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was eligible for the vaccine in early February but didn’t get it. He died on June 4, infected and unvaccinated, after spending more than three weeks in the hospital, his lungs filling with fluid. He was unable to swallow because of a stroke.

“He never went out, so he didn’t think he would catch it,” said his grieving sister, Karen McKnight. She wondered: “Why take the risk of not getting vaccinated?”

The preventable deaths will continue, experts predict, with unvaccinated pockets of the nation experiencing outbreaks in the fall and winter. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said modelling suggests the nation will hit 1,000 deaths per day again next year.

In Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only about 33 per cent of the population fully protected, cases, hospitalisations and deaths are rising.

“It is sad to see someone go to the hospital or die when it can be prevented,” Governor Asa Hutchinson tweeted as he urged people to get their shots.

In Seattle’s King County, the public health department found only three deaths during a recent 60-day period in people who were fully vaccinated. The rest, some 95 per cent of 62 deaths, had had no vaccine or just one shot.

In the St Louis area, more than 90 per cent of patients hospitalised with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated, said Dr Alex Garza, a hospital administrator who directs a metropolitan-area task force on the outbreak.