A cluster of states in the Midwest and South has become a new center of Covid-19 outbreaks, as the highly transmissible Delta variant sweeps through poorly vaccinated populations in the United States.
The news marks a potentially serious setback for the Biden administration’s attempts to curb and control the pandemic as the Delta variant – which has wreaked havoc in the UK and elsewhere – begins to spread more widely in America.
It also comes as life in much of the United States has started to return to normal, with many Covid-19 restrictions lifted, and as the vaccination schedule has slowed.
The rates of Covid-19 cases in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi are among the highest in the country, and their vaccination rates among the lowest. The Covid also appears to be gaining ground in the American West.
Despite this, the overall number of new cases of Covid-19 is low. New infections are less than a tenth of the average daily rate at the height of the pandemic in January, although they have doubled in the past two weeks.
“We are not where we were in April 2020,” said Dr. David Dowdy, associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University and expert in infectious diseases. Nonetheless, he said, “We have seen that these numbers can increase dramatically and quickly, so we have to be careful but not panic. “
About 55% of all Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration remain safe and highly effective against Covid-19 and its variants, including Delta. State officials have said the overwhelming majority of people now hospitalized with Covid-19 are not vaccinated.
However, localized epidemics highlight a growing gap in vaccine uptake between U.S. states, as a complex set of conditions has left Republican-prone and rural places with lower overall vaccination rates than trending states. democrat.
“People who have not yet been vaccinated are a very diverse group,” said Dowdy. “It’s easy to present it as… a political stripe, but vaccination rates are higher, for example, among older people, regardless of their political orientation. “
Nationwide daily immunization rates have dropped sharply from an average peak of 3.4 million per day to around 432,000 per day today. States such as Mississippi and Alabama have some of the worst vaccination rates in the country, with just a third of their population vaccinated. In contrast, Vermont has vaccinated 67% of its population.
Between April and July, the gap in vaccination rates between counties that voted for Joe Biden and counties that voted for Donald Trump widened from 2.2% to 11.7%, according to the organization. health research Kaiser Family Foundation. Republicans remain the most vaccine-hostile group in the country. States in the Midwestern and Southern region that are currently experiencing a Covid-19 outbreak have long ranked lower on a wide variety of health metrics.
At the same time, the vaccination has allowed more people to move freely in society, making it difficult to distinguish the effect of the Delta variant from that of the change in human behavior, Dowdy said.
There remains “a bunch of conservative people who just don’t want to get it for political reasons,” said Aaron Wendelboe, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oklahoma and former state epidemiologist amid the crisis. pandemic in Oklahoma. Nonetheless, experts, including Wendelboe, warn that vaccine reluctance is complex and multifaceted.
“We have a Republican governor who is vaccinated, we have Republican leaders who are vaccinated, and we are a strongly red state,” said Dr. Jennifer Dilaha, director of vaccinations at the Arkansas Department of Health. “I don’t know how much of a role political differences in our state play, I think it’s probably other factors involved that play a bigger role. “
Dilaha said many Arkansans, especially young people, underestimate the severity of illness caused by Covid-19 and overestimate the risks associated with vaccines, which have been shown to be very safe.
“They are not familiar with the long term consequences” of Covid-19, “because we are still learning about them,” Dilaha said. “People don’t realize that people with Covid-19 can have permanent lung damage, heart damage, kidney damage, brain damage. “
In recent weeks, more than 98% of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Arkansas and Oklahoma have not been vaccinated. And in Arkansas, authorities are seeing many more people in their 20s, 30s and 40s hospitalized.
While vaccine reluctance remains complex, constant attacks by conservative lawmakers on pandemic mitigation measures, intentionally or unintentionally, underscore the misconception that Covid-19 is not as bad as public health officials warn him.
In Oklahoma, lawmakers introduced legislation to make school mask warrants much more difficult to enforce even if children under the age of 12 remain ineligible for the vaccine, and to ban vaccine warrants. As it is, most schools are on summer vacation, most have not removed mask mandates, and none require vaccines.
Tennessee lawmakers attacked the state’s top vaccine official, which ultimately led to his sacking. After politicians criticized health officials, all vaccine-related messages were dropped, even for unrelated vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and human papillomavirus (HPV). More than 30,000 families did not receive a measles vaccine during the pandemic.
“When the people elected and appointed to the head of this state put their political gains before the public good, they betrayed the people who trusted them for their lives,” Dr. Michelle Fiscus wrote in an op-ed for the newspaper. Tennessean.
In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson lashed out at the Biden administration’s announcement that backup teams would help states vaccinate people in a door-to-door effort.
“I have asked our Department of Health to tell the federal government that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to force vaccination would NOT be an effective OR welcome strategy in Missouri!” Pastor wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening.
The speed at which the Delta variant can spread among unvaccinated populations was demonstrated in a recently published investigation into an outbreak in an Oklahoma gym.
In an outbreak investigated by the CDC, 47 people were sick with Covid-19 in April. Of the 21 people whose test samples could be sequenced, all were found to have the Delta variant.
Of those infected, 85% did not have a Covid-19 vaccine, including many teenagers who were not eligible to receive the vaccine at the time. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks, but the gym had poor mask adhesion and ventilation. High-intensity indoor sports are among the riskiest activities for unvaccinated people.
“I am very concerned that we are already seeing an increase in the number of cases,” said Wendelboe, who has created her own model for tracking transmission in the state. He expects Delta to cause five times more Covid-19 cases in August and 10 times more by December.
Even a small increase in vaccination rates could help mitigate this result, he said. Otherwise, Oklahoma could “continue to see only a slight increase in cases throughout the winter.”