Health experts are sounding the alarm as the number of unvaccinated individuals remains stagnant while COVID cases rise across the country.
The reasons for individuals remaining unvaccinated vary; drivers include anti-vax sentiment and skepticism of scientific data. The stickiness of arguments that lead Americans to remain unvaccinated in the face of overwhelming evidence continues to worry medical professionals.
“What’s most concerning to me is not really the flu,” Dr. Cedric Dark, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “It’s not even COVID sometimes. At this point, it’s that we’re going to take a step backwards scientifically and medically because we’re allowing people who don’t believe in vaccines to run this debate that’s happening. And it’s not a debate — it’s science.”
Flu cases declined significantly in the 2020 season as a result of public health measures amid the pandemic that included social distancing and mask wearing. With the addition of effective vaccines, Americans' potential defense against coronavirus has never been stronger.
“Think about all the things that we’ve done in public health,” Dark said. “We have eradicated smallpox. We’ve eradicated polio from the United States. That’s through vaccination. We also have seen the morbidity and mortality from other childhood diseases like measles and Haemophilus influenzae decline to almost disappear in places where people have vaccinated enough of their children to achieve herd immunity.”
'Your best protection… is vaccination'
Data shows that the three vaccines available in the U.S. — from Pfizer (PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) — are all significantly effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Importantly, the vaccines also protect against the Delta variant, the strain of COVID that's responsible for the recent surge in cases.
And while it should be noted that there have been a few cases of severe side effects from the vaccines, the incidences are far outnumbered by those who received the vaccine with no issue.
Unfortunately, many are using these instances as their justification to remain unvaccinated or to keep their children from getting vaccinated.
“The vast majority of people that are becoming infected right now, especially the severe cases, are unvaccinated people,” Dark said. “So that’s something that everyone should know is that your best protection against COVID remains vaccination.”
There have been notable jumps in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID recently in the U.S. An overwhelming majority of these cases are those who are unvaccinated.
"I expect that across the country, especially in areas with low vaccination, we’re going to see fairly significant upticks, so we are worried about what will happen as we get into the fall," New York Presbyterian Hospital CEO Dr. Steven Corwin said on Yahoo Finance Live recently.
A majority of older Americans are now fully vaccinated. But according to CDC data, those between the ages of 18 and 29 have the lowest vaccination rates.
“There’s a clear message that is coming through,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during Friday’s coronavirus briefing. “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
'Using COVID purely as a means to an end'
As part of a vaccine outreach effort, the White House recently hosted pop singer Olivia Rodrigo who recorded videos alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), about the importance of getting vaccinated.
“If we can have celebrities communicate, especially with health care workers, about the benefits of vaccination and reach people who may be hesitant towards it — not folks necessarily that are outright antagonistic towards vaccination — hopefully that can help us get past this pandemic,” Dark said.
At the local level, Dark said, he would like to see more younger individuals and those from the Black and Brown communities doing similar outreach.
“We know that people are more trustworthy when they hear from their physicians than listening to politicians about the vaccination,” he said. “Whether or not it extends to celebrities, hopefully it will.”
Outreach is a crucial part of getting more Americans vaccinated, but some states are deliberately throttling the vaccination message. Health officials in Tennessee, for example, are reportedly curbing adolescent outreach efforts for COVID vaccines as a result of pressure from GOP lawmakers.
“What’s going on right now in Tennessee is atrocious,” Dark said. “It is reprehensible. What they’re actually doing is actively working against science and actively working against public health because they’re saying they’re not allowed to hold events in schools, that they’re not allowed to have direct outreach towards young people. What we’re going to see, not only this for COVID, is this also applies to all other childhood-preventable vaccination."
And as with previous public health crises, a loud minority against vaccination can negatively affect all of society.
"There’s an element in our society that is anti-vax and they’re being very strongly heard right now," he added. "They’re using COVID purely as a means to an end.”
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 protected]
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