With more COVID hotspots popping up around the country and the Delta variant as the dominant strain, unvaccinated individuals in the U.S. may be more vulnerable than at any other point when vaccines were available amid the pandemic.
“If you are unvaccinated, this is probably the most dangerous point in time of the pandemic to date,” Dr. Sejal Hathi, faculty at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “It’s incredibly important that you get that vaccine. Otherwise, unfortunately, we’re going to continue to see cases rise and with that, hospitalizations and thereafter deaths.”
The 7-day average of new cases in the U.S. is 37,673, though this varies greatly by region. States like Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, and Missouri are seeing some of their highest numbers in new cases since the pandemic began. And many of these same states have below-average vaccination rates.
And according to the CDC, preliminary data has indicated that 99.5% of COVID-related deaths over the last six months occurred in unvaccinated people.
“We have the magic bullet,” Hathi said. “Vaccines are safe, effective, they work. And this pandemic will continue to rage unabated so long as we don’t afford equal access to that magic bullet to everyone across the globe. It’s imperative that as infections rise everywhere, including here at home in the United States, that we do more to ensure that we get shots in arms.”
'A lot of us are at risk'
Part of the problem is that vaccines are not being distributed at the same pace across the country.
For example, in the Southeast, most of the vaccination rates for those who received at least one dose are below 50%. Yet in the Northeast, that number is at 60% or higher.
“The rates of COVID cases in poorly vaccinated counties are more than twice as high as those in robustly vaccinated counties — those with at least 60% of their population fully vaccinated,” Hathi said.
With the spread of the Delta variant and with schools back in session this fall, the question is what the guidance will be regarding wearing masks and social distancing, especially since those under the age of 12 cannot get any vaccine yet.
According to Hathi, it should be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the conditions in your local community.
“Generally, communities should aim to have below four daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people,” Hathi said. “If you belong in a neighborhood, in a community, or in a city that has met that benchmark and you were vaccinated, you probably don’t need to mask.”
However, she added, “if you belong to a community where vaccine rates are very low, like many states in the South and the Southeast, and you’re in an indoor setting where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing, you should probably consider masking.”
This also applies to those who live with unvaccinated children, immunocompromised individuals, or those who haven’t been able to get the vaccine because of immunocompromising conditions.
“What I would strongly encourage the federal government to do is roll out additional guidance about indoor settings where unvaccinated and vaccinated people are mixing,” Hathi said, “because right now, with the increasingly transmissible Delta variant, a lot of us are at risk.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at email@example.com.