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A Battle Between Vaccination and Variants


René F. Najera, DrPH

August 10, 2021

With summer activities in full swing, Covid shows no sign of relenting. The Delta variant continues to wreak havoc, forcing states to reinstate lockdowns and crackdown on the importance of mask-wearing once more. Last summer, there was little people could do to curb the spread of the virus besides social distancing and masking up. The difference this summer is the availability of a vaccine to every citizen of the United States above the age of twelve. And soon enough, even children will have the opportunity to get vaccinated. 

The new worry is whether or not the United States will ever reach herd immunity. The vaccination campaign has fallen short of its previous projections as the vaccination rate continues to decline. At one point in early April, around 4.5 million Americans were vaccinated daily as opposed to the recent figure of 470,873 daily vaccinations recorded on August 6th. The graph below shows the percentage of Americans who will be vaccinated at the current pace, yet the projected rate of vaccination is unlikely to continue linearly. Rather, the rate will continue to decline and eventually it seems, flatten off before the United States can reach herd immunity; according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, this will occur when 75-80+% of the United States is vaccinated. The declining vaccination rate leaves the US susceptible to renewed outbreaks and threatens the implementation of lockdown protocol once more.

Vaccination will also help curb the spread of various rapidly evolving variants. In the words of Ellen Foxman, MD, Ph.D., a Yale Medicine pathologist, the fight to beat Covid is "a race between vaccination and variants.” Who is refusing to get vaccinated and what is stopping them? For one, the lack of access to vaccines, either real or perceived, prevents people from receiving their vaccinations. Some may not have transportation means of traveling to vaccination sites while some cannot afford to take time out of their schedules to get vaccinated. Misinformation, too, plays a big role in the decline of the vaccination rate: many are simply not aware that the vaccine is available to them. Still, others worry about the side effects or the efficacy of the vaccine. Yet the majority of the people who are not getting vaccinated are those who do not see COVID as a threat.

There is one unexpected group of people who are contributing heavily to the decline in the vaccination rate: the nations’ youngest adults. According to a study performed by the Center for Disease Control, by August 9th, while the national vaccination rate was 70.20%, the percentage of adults aged 18-24 who were fully vaccinated was 44.8%, and aged 25-39 was 49.4%. Even lower still are teenagers with only 35.2% of those aged 12-15 and 30.4% of those aged 16-17 years fully vaccinated. One reason for the disproportionately low vaccination rate among teenagers and young adults might be this pandemic’s emphasis on keeping the elderly safe; young adults may take their chances with contracting the virus, confident that their youth will help them beat it handily. Another reason that young people are not getting vaccinated is the lack of information on platforms geared toward their generation. Gen Z relies heavily on Instagram and Tik Tok not only for entertainment and social activity but also for news. There is little official information relating to Covid on Tik Tok and almost no messaging from state and federal health officials tailored to its community. What results is an issue of misinformation, increasing the likelihood of skepticism of the efficacy and long-term effects of the covid vaccines. 

A person infected with the delta variant carries about a 10-fold higher viral load and is about 50% more contagious than the original alpha strain. As the nation gears up for the fourth wave of coronavirus and the delta variant ravages across the unvaccinated population, the importance of vaccination and of reaching herd immunity is glaring.


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