More than nine out of 10 Americans who died from Covid-19 in the US in June were unvaccinated, according to Anthony Fauci – a statistic that health officials say is especially concerning given the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy in some regions and the rise of the Delta variant.
Maryland reported this week that 100% of those who died from coronavirus there in June had not been vaccinated, while more than 93% of those with new cases or who were hospitalized were similarly unprotected.
Cases are rising in nearly half the states as low vaccination rates are being met with the more transmissible and severe Delta or B.1.617.2, variant, identified in India in December 2020.
Vaccinations administered in the US have shown to be effective against the Delta variant, though it poses serious risks to those who remain unvaccinated.
The variant is already the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the country, accounting for more than 50% of all new US cases and up to 80% of cases in some regions, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released Tuesday.
Joe Biden has reiterated the urgency behind getting more Americans vaccinated.
“We can’t get complacent now,” he said during a press briefing. “Millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. And because of that, their communities are at risk, their friends are at risk, the people they care about are at risk.”
Anthony Fauci, the country’s top public health official, has said that, in June, 99.2% of Covid deaths in the US could be attributed to those who are unvaccinated .
CDC data shows that about 67% of American adults aged 18 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 58% are fully vaccinated.
The percentages fell short of Biden’s goal of 70% of adult Americans having had at least one dose of the vaccine by the Fourth of July.
Vaccination rates vary widely by state and region, with states on the west coast and in the north-east seeing the highest rates while states in the south are seeing some of the lowest.
Some vaccine hesitancy appears to be closely tied to political beliefs, with a recent poll showing almost twice as many declared Democrats as Republicans saying they had been vaccinated.
For some there is longstanding mistrust of government health programs, and some efforts at public outreach are being hampered by misinformation, spread especially via social media.
“The solution is the vaccinations,” said Asa Hutchinson, Republican governor of Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “We’re in a race against this Delta variant, which spreads very fast, and every state is going to be faced with this.”
Data has made it clear that the vaccine has worked to dramatically reduce the number of Covid cases and deaths in the country.
Rapid rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine this year prevented an additional 279,000 deaths and 1.25m hospitalizations, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund released on Wednesday.
But public health experts warn that the continued spread of the Delta variant could cause another surge in cases.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a recommendation saying that everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, should wear masks indoors in light of the spread of the Delta variant. The recommendation contrasts with guidance from the CDC, which in May said that those who are vaccinated do not have to wear masks indoors.
States with below-average vaccination rates have almost triple the rate of new Covid-19 cases compared with states with above-average vaccination rates, according to new data from Johns Hopkins University, CNN reported, and in one example a federal government “surge team” was deployed to south-west Missouri to provide public health support.
William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Washington Post: “There are people who still doubt the severity of Covid-19 and the effectiveness of the vaccine … This is still a serious illness. The vaccines are highly protective against these severe outcomes. This is real.”