‘The problem remains with the unvaccinated,’ expert says as COVID surges

With the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant continuing nationwide, the recent surge in Covid-19 cases is being largely driven by swaths of people that remain unvaccinated, according to one expert.

“We know that the vast majority of the spread is still by unvaccinated people. And I think that that is the part that’s been lost in the messaging from the CDC … which is that the problem is not with the vaccinated. The problem remains with the unvaccinated. And the way that we can get out of this pandemic is to increase vaccination rates,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen said Saturday.

Wen’s remarks come as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data indicating that a small percentage of the fully vaccinated population can still be infected with Covid-19, be hospitalized, or die from the disease.

Less than 0.004% of people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 experienced a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization, according to CDC’s latest data, and less than 0.001% have died from the disease.

Breakthrough cases occur when the virus infects fully vaccinated people.

The CDC reported a total of 6,587 breakthrough cases, including 6,239 hospitalizations and 1,263 deaths as of July 26. At that time, more than 163 million people in the US were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Wen clarified that the federal government’s recent guidance that fully vaccinated people should mask up is not an indication that the vaccines aren’t working.

“So the CDC should actually be saying, ‘Look, the reason we’re doing indoor mandates is because the unvaccinated cannot be trusted to put on masks. That’s why the vaccinated also have to be putting on masks,'” she said.

“I really think that that would clarify things because ultimately the issue is the unvaccinated. They really need to prevent this idea from taking over that somehow the vaccines don’t work because that’s exactly the opposite of what the CDC data are showing.”

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, echoed Wen’s stance.

“So if I tell you that if you are vaccinated, you have a … 99.999% chance of not dying from this virus, what else in life gives you that kind of guarantee? Our vaccines are exquisitely effective and very safe,” Reiner told CNN Saturday. “But the news is just phenomenal with these vaccines, even with the super aggressive Delta variant, our vaccines work and they work really well.”

While there was a recent vaccination lag in many pockets of the country, inoculations have started to pick up. The seven-day average of new doses administered per day in the US is now 652,084, up 26% over three weeks ago. The increase is even sharper in Southern states, which have some of the lowest in vaccination rates in the country.

In Alabama, where roughly 34% of the total population is fully vaccinated, the seven-day average is more than double that of three weeks ago. And Arkansas, with just 36% of its population fully vaccinated, has also seen its average daily rate of doses administered double in the past three weeks.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Americans can lower Covid-19 infections in a matter of weeks with vaccination and masks.

“If we take the steps that are necessary to squash the amount of disease that is there now, we can do so in a matter of weeks, if we all get vaccinated, if we wear masks,” Walensky told Fox News Friday.

Just under half, 49.5%, of the total US population is fully vaccinated, CDC data published Saturday showed.

Industry urges more vaccinations among health care workers

With the uptick in hospitalizations, health care workers are once again facing a greater risk of exposure to Covid-19. And some in the medical community are calling for more stringent requirements regarding vaccinations for health care and long-term care employees.

Nationally, less than 59% of nursing home staff are vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data released Friday from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In contrast, more than 81% of nursing home residents were vaccinated as of July 18, according to CMS.

Only 1 in 5 nursing home facilities have hit the industry target of getting 75% of their health care staff fully vaccinated, according to a recent report from AARP.

“For health care workers, I think a mandate is necessary,” Dr. Rachel Villanueva, president of the National Medical Association, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Friday.

The National Medical Association, which advocates on behalf of African American physicians and patients, is one of dozens of health care organizations that recently signed a joint statement in support of Covid-19 vaccine mandates for all workers in the industry.

Even among health and long-term care employees, Villanueva noted, “I think it just really reflects what is happening in our nation — that people have concerns, that people have been subjected to a lot of misinformation, and I think it’s done us a big disservice.”

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA), which represents 70 hospitals in the state, endorsed a policy on Thursday requiring its member hospitals to “implement mandatory vaccination policies for their employees,” according to a statement.

According to MHA, each individual hospital “will establish its own policy and timeline for mandatory vaccination, exercising their independent judgment, based on their workforce,” the needs of the community and compliance “with all federal and state laws in granting appropriate medical and religious exemptions.”

“We felt it was important to take a stand together,” said Christine Schuster, president and CEO of Emerson Hospital, in a tweet.

Debate over mask mandates

More cities and states are reinstituting mask mandates after recent data suggested vaccinated and unvaccinated people could potentially carry a similar viral load if infected.

Palm Beach County, Florida, will require face masks indoors at all county buildings for those vaccinated and unvaccinated beginning next week, citing the rising Covid-19 positivity rates in South Florida, according to a statement from the county.

San Francisco, which has more than 70% of residents vaccinated against Covid-19, is “very vigorously exploring a mask mandate,” according to the city’s Health Officer Dr. Grant Colfax. An announcement is expected as early as next week.

“This is not a good time to not be fully vaccinated for Covid-19,” Colfax said, urging residents to find a way to protect themselves by receiving the vaccine. Colfax noted that hospitalizations of vaccinated Covid-19 patients is a fraction of the number of those who are unvaccinated.

And it’s not only cities and counties that are issuing guidance. The music festival Lollapalooza, which is wrapping up Sunday, said it would require masks in any indoor spaces this weekend after following the latest recommendation from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“We encourage all fans attending the festival to bring a mask as they attend the final two days of the festival,” according to a festival tweet.

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