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As the Delta variant spreads, unvaccinated communities are at risk

NIAD Director Anthony Fauci is urging more Americans to get vaccinated as places with low vaccination rates see COVID-19 spikes.

As the Delta variant spreads, unvaccinated communities are at risk
Las Vegas visitors in late May walk by the Four Queens Hotel & Casino and the Fremont Hotel & Casino under the Viva Vision canopy attraction at the Fremont Street Experience. [Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images]
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While most of the U.S. is experiencing very low case numbers of COVID-19, Missouri, Utah, Nevada, and Arkansas are reporting an increase in new cases. These spikes are predominately taking place in areas with low vaccination rates. There is concern that these communities may be more vulnerable to the new Delta variant, originally discovered in India and increasingly worming its way through the U.S.

Missouri is perhaps the worst-hit region. Only 38% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, but some counties have registered far lower vaccination rates. The state health department in collaboration with the natural resources department and the University of Missouri is tracking which COVID-19 variants are arising in the state through wastewater testing. The program, called the Sewershed Surveillance Project, has found the highly transmissible Delta variant to be spreading in 10 counties.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the Delta variant comprises roughly 10% of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. The Pfizer vaccine, as well as AstraZeneca’s, which is not yet available in the U.S., have been shown to be 90% effective against the Delta variant. But the virus has the potential to spread in areas with low vaccination rates. For example, the Sewershed Surveillance Project found the Delta variant in Linn County, where vaccination rates sit at 31% and cases have been high in May and June. Neighboring Sullivan County has even lower vaccination rates, 28%, and is just starting to see its case numbers rise. The Sewershed Surveillance Project doesn’t have data for Sullivan County, but there is a risk that the Delta variant passing through Linn County could make its way to Sullivan County.

COVID-19 continues to mutate in ways that make it more dangerous. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has called it the “greatest threat” to the country’s attempt to quell COVID-19. Global health experts have found the already highly contagious Delta variant has morphed such that it is even more transmissible and may be less susceptible to some antibody treatments, according to MSNBC.

All states where COVID-19 cases are up have vaccination rates below 40%, except for Utah, which has vaccinated 42% of its population. But state-level vaccination rates are less important in understanding where COVID-19 case numbers are likely to go up than more localized vaccination and transmission rates. Utah achieved higher vaccination rates in Summit County, where 64% of the population is vaccinated and case numbers have fallen drastically since January. But in Uintah County, where only a quarter of people are vaccinated, case numbers are soaring.

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Similarly, high state-level vaccination rates don’t tell the full story. Texas has vaccinated nearly 57% of its population. However, in Hutchinson County, in the northern part of the state, vaccination rates are 28% and cases have been growing throughout June, according to state data.

Some people have expressed concern about the vaccines having negative health affects, though data has shown them to be safe for adults and children ages 12 and older. The CDC did recently release an update noting that more than a thousand reports of heart inflammation after receiving two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have come in. These cases seem to predominately involve young men under 16. Still, the agency is currently recommending that children 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that the number of reports of adverse reactions are relatively small.

To strengthen community resistance to COVID-19, Fauci is urging more Americans to get vaccinated. “If you are vaccinated, you’re going to be protected, which is another very good reason to encourage people strongly to get vaccinated,” Fauci said on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. “If you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting infected with the virus that now spreads more rapidly and gives more serious disease.”

About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.

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