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Almost all COVID-19 deaths in the US are now in people who have not been vaccinated, amazing evidence of how effective the vaccinations have been and an indication that deaths per day – now below 300 – could be practically zero, if everyone is eligible to get the vaccine.
An analysis of available government data from the Associated Press in May shows that “breakthrough infections” accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,000 COVID-19 hospital admissions in fully vaccinated individuals. That’s about 0.1%.
And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were from fully vaccinated people. That’s about 0.8%, or an average of five deaths per day.
The AP analyzed numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC itself did not estimate the percentage of hospital admissions and deaths in fully vaccinated individuals, citing limitations in the data.
Including: Only about 45 states report breakthrough infections, and some are more aggressive than others in looking for such cases. So the data likely underestimates such infections, CDC officials said.
Still, the overall trend that emerges from the data reflects what many health officials across the country are seeing and what top experts are saying.
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Earlier this month, Andy Slavitt, a former Biden government advisor on COVID-19, suggested that 98 to 99 percent of Americans who die from the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
And CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday the vaccine was so effective that “almost all death, especially in adults, from COVID-19 is completely preventable at this point.” She called such deaths “particularly tragic”.
The number of deaths in the US has fallen from a high of an average of more than 3,400 days in mid-January, a month after the vaccination campaign began.
About 63% of all Americans who can vaccinate – ages 12 and up – have received at least one dose, and 53% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. While vaccines remain scarce in much of the world, supply in the US is so plentiful and demand has collapsed so dramatically that vaccinations go unused.
Ross Bagne, a 68-year-old small business owner in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was entitled to the vaccine in early February but was not given it. He died on June 4, infected and unvaccinated, after spending more than three weeks in the hospital while his lungs filled with fluids. He was unable to swallow because of a stroke.
“He never went out so he didn’t think he’d catch it,” said his grieving sister, Karen McKnight. She asked herself, “Why take the risk not to get vaccinated?”
Experts predict the preventable deaths will continue, with outbreaks occurring in unvaccinated parts of the nation in the fall and winter. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, said modeling suggests the nation will hit 1,000 deaths a day again over the next year.
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Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and only about 33% of the population is fully protected, has increased cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
“It’s sad to see someone go to the hospital or die when this can be prevented,” tweeted Governor Asa Hutchinson as he urged people to get their injections.
In Seattle’s King County, the health department found only three deaths in fully vaccinated people in the past 60 days. The remainder, about 95% of 62 deaths, had no or only one vaccine.
“These are all someone’s parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends,” said Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, who runs a vaccination program in King County. “There are still many deaths and preventable deaths.”
In the St. Louis area, more than 90% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated, said Dr. Alex Garza, a hospital administrator who leads a task force in the metropolitan area on the outbreak.
“Most of them regret not having been vaccinated,” said Garza. “That’s a pretty common refrain that we hear from patients with COVID.”
The stories of the deaths of unvaccinated people may convince some people to get injected, but young adults – the group least likely to get vaccinated – might be more motivated by a desire to protect their loved ones, David said Michaels, epidemiologist at the George Washington School of Public Health at the university in the country’s capital.
Others need paid time off to get the shots and deal with any side effects, Michaels said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Agency started this month obliging health care employers, including hospitals and nursing homes, to provide such time off. But Michaels, who ran OSHA under President Barack Obama, said the agency should have gone further and applied the rule to meat and poultry and other food operations, as well as other places with vulnerable workers.
Bagne, who lived alone, ran a business that helped people start their businesses in Wyoming to get the tax break. When he got sick, he emailed his sister in April about an illness that had made him dizzy and disoriented.
“Whatever it was. This mistake made a lot of demands on me,” he wrote.
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When his health deteriorated, a neighbor eventually persuaded him to go to the hospital.
“Why was the embassy in his state so unclear that he didn’t understand the meaning of the vaccine? He was a very intelligent guy,” said his sister. “I wish he had the vaccine and I’m sad that he didn’t understand how it could prevent him from getting COVID.”