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Published: August, 2021; Vol 18, Num 4

 

Delta Variant and Vaccine Hesitancy Create Deadly Combination

LIUNA General
Secretary-Treasurer
and LHSFNA Labor
Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

Just when it seemed like the COVID-19 roller coaster ride was about to end, the Delta variant showed up and delivered another set of twists and turns. In mid-July, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the seven-day average of COVID-19 infections soared nearly 70 percent in just one week, to about 26,000 cases a day. At the same time, COVID-19 hospitalizations were up nearly 36 percent. Unfortunately, based on previous experience, we know we can expect an increase in COVID-19 deaths in the coming weeks.

“With over 160 million people in the U.S. now fully vaccinated, there is plenty of evidence these vaccines are safe. Cases rising in communities with low vaccination rates shows how effective these vaccines are as well,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “The results really speak for themselves. Everyone who is able to should get vaccinated. It’s our patriotic duty.”

Science and accumulated data tell us that as more people get vaccinated, the pandemic has less of a negative impact on us, our families and our lives in general. However, a lot of people are still hesitant to get vaccinated, for a variety of reasons. Some of the information around vaccinations has been confusing and could be why people are hesitant to get vaccinated. Like most things, there is good news and bad news as we learn more about COVID-19 and how to combat it.

Let’s look at the state of COVID-19 vaccinations, where we stand with the Delta variant and help answer some questions for those who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated.

What is the Delta variant?

The Bad News

Just like there are different strains of the flu each year, there are different COVID-19 strains as well. The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first identified in India in December 2020 and has since spread to all 50 states in the U.S. and to Canada.

The Good News

All three of the vaccines given emergency use authorization by the FDA have shown to be largely effective at preventing serious illness and death due to COVID-19, and that includes the Delta variant as well.

Can fully vaccinated people still get COVID-19?

The Bad News

Vaccinations don't guarantee you won’t get COVID-19. In the last few weeks, hospitalizations and deaths are rising in places with low vaccination rates.

The Good News

Vaccines help you avoid getting COVID-19 if you are exposed to the virus. They also greatly increase the odds that if you develop symptoms, you will have a mild case. About 97-99 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are among people who are unvaccinated.

A LIUNA member gets vaccinated at a
LIUNA-sponsored vaccine clinic.
Image courtesy of the NYS Laborers' Health
and Safety Fund.

What percentage of people are still hesitant to get vaccinated?

The Bad News

In a recent poll, 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated, compared with 24 percent in April. Health experts estimate that 70-90 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated for us to reach herd immunity.

The Good News

The latest CDC data shows 68.4 percent of adults have had at least one vaccine dose, with 59.6 percent fully vaccinated. In Canada, 50 percent of Canadians age 12 and up are fully vaccinated.

What about people who already made the decisions to get vaccinated?

The Bad News

Nearly 15 million people missed their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting both doses in a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) gives the body the boost of antibodies it needs to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Good News

For people who are fully vaccinated, the vaccines are safe and effective, and serious complications are rare. And while you should get your second shot as close as possible to the date recommended by your healthcare provider, your second dose may be given up to six weeks (42 days) after the first dose, if necessary.

What kind of progress is being made to get more people vaccinated?

The Bad News

Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has dropped significantly from earlier this year. Across the U.S., certain states and counties have far lower vaccination rates than others, putting people in those communities at greater risk.

The Good News

Part of the reason for decreased demand is that a large percentage of the population is now vaccinated. In the U.S., there are now plenty of COVID-19 shots available and everyone age 12 and older is now eligible. To find a COVID-19 vaccine near you, visit  www.vaccines.gov. In Canada, everyone age 12 and older is now eligible to get the vaccine.

How much of the current vaccine hesitancy is due to misinformation?

The Bad News

A lot of misinformation circulating on social media sites and other sources is lowering people’s interest in getting vaccinated. As of May, 67 percent of unvaccinated U.S. adults believed or were unsure about a myth they’d heard about COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government and social media companies are working to dispel intentional misinformation being spread online that the vaccines aren’t safe or that they have harmful side effects, even though there’s no evidence to support these claims. Some of this misinformation is being spread for political reasons, to increase the growing partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Other misinformation has been combined with conspiracy theories, both old and new, from various groups and “anti-vaxxers.”

The Good News

There are many reputable sources of vaccine information. The CDC is a good source of information and the American Academy of Pediatrics hosts information for families at HealthyChildren.org. Canada.ca includes facts about immunization, including travel and Canada's vaccine safety network. CanVax.ca hosts information about the safe development of the vaccines and making the decision to get vaccinated.

Looking forward, one of the best tools we have for convincing hesitant people to get vaccinated may be asking people who used to be skeptical what eventually changed their minds. Polling of people who were initially hesitant to get vaccinated shows that focusing on the safety of the vaccines may be more effective than focusing on the dangers of COVID-19. People also said that seeing friends and family get the vaccine and be fine went a long way toward showing them the vaccines were safe. As with many types of behavior change, making a real effort to communicate and listen to one another is often the first step.

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]