What the US government is calling “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” is playing out in painful ways as some realize too late that they wish they had had the shot, while others hold out even as they suffer in hospital amid a national surge of new Covid-19 infections, primarily caused by the Delta variant.
At least 99% of those in the US who died of coronavirus in the last six months had not been vaccinated, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said.
Meanwhile vaccination rates have slowed down nationwide and are especially low in some of the more conservative, southern parts of the country, despite more than 610,000 people in the US dying of the virus since the pandemic hit in early 2020.
In places such as Alabama, only 33% of people who can receive the vaccine had been fully vaccinated, as of 20 July.
On Monday, a doctor in a Birmingham, Alabama, hospital, Brytney Cobia, said that all but one of her Covid patients at Grandview medical center didn’t receive the vaccine, with the one who had expected to make a full recovery after receiving oxygen, she told the Birmingham News. Several others are dying.
“I’m admitting young, healthy people to the hospital with very serious Covid infections,” wrote Cobia in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she added, referring to patients who have to be put on a ventilator.
Alabama public health officials recently reported 96% of Alabamians who have died of Covid since April were not fully vaccinated.
Among the people succumbing to the deadly disease are those who are increasingly catching the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is far more contagious than the original.
The variant now makes up 83% of new cases in the US, according to Walensky.
“This is a dramatic increase, up from 50% for the week of July 3,” she said.
In Louisiana, only 36% of eligible people have been vaccinated.
Local pharmaceutical researcher Paula Johnson put off getting the vaccine, and was sent to the hospital in an ambulance with Covid-19.
Johnson, who had no co-morbidities, told CBS News she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance with Covid-19 symptoms. “I couldn’t breathe. I just – all of a sudden, my lungs just didn’t work,” she said, describing it as “hitting a wall”. Now she wants the vaccine.
According to the CDC, people who have had Covid-19 can still get the shot, but some may have to wait 90 days depending on the treatment they received.
Johnson now urges others not to wait. “I’d say get the vaccine, take the chance, it can’t hurt, all it can do is alleviate some of the symptoms, even if it doesn’t keep you from getting it – it will at least help you get through it,” she said.
With the rise in infections, hospitalizations and deaths Joe Biden once again urged unvaccinated Americans to take the “gigantically important step” of getting their shots, when he addressed a CNN town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday evening.
The White House is currently debating whether to ask vaccinated Americans to wear masks again, especially in areas where the Delta variant is surging. Meanwhile, the CDC is considering updating its masking guidance.
The Delta variant is understood to spread two to three times faster than the original version of the virus.
Researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant grows more rapidly inside people’s respiratory tracts and becomes more infectious sooner.
The recent surges of the virus in the US are convincing even some who downplayed the impact of the pandemic to promote vaccinations.
Fox News is belatedly jumping on board to convince people to get inoculated.
The cable news station aired a public service announcement on Wednesday to encourage viewers to get the vaccine. “America, we’re in this together,” the Fox & Friends show anchor Steve Doocy said in the ad, while host Harris Faulkner said: “If you can, get the vaccine” before a screenshot of the CDC’s website appeared.
Less than an hour after the PSA aired on Wednesday, and while the US president was on live TV begging people to get vaccinated, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson implied Fox’s decision to promote vaccines was a poor one, although he actually lashed out at CNN.
Carlson said that “as a channel, CNN shouldn’t have a position on whether you should take medicine or not, because it’s a news channel, it’s not a health agency”.
He later added, cryptically: “Why is a news channel doing this? Any news channel. A lot of them are.”