Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, August 10, 2021 --
Americans who refused vaccines are now facing Mother Nature's wrath. The benefits of herd immunity may soon be upon us.
When the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told vaccinated Americans to put their masks back on, America’s joyous post-pandemic mood quickly turned sour. The last few weeks have seen skyrocketing Covid infection cases in southern states with low vaccination rates. This new surge has doused dreams for America’s early exit from the pandemic.
Yet hope for an early exit to the pandemic may not be lost.
Mother Nature is stepping in to solve the problem of America’s vaccine refuseniks with relentless brutality. The people who didn't listen to scientists and public health officials are precisely the ones who are falling ill to the Delta strain in great numbers. Unlike mankind's Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines, Mother Nature’s Delta variant is not voluntary. It is delivered with the silent unexpected ruthlessness of natural infection, and has far more deadly side effects than any man-made vaccine.
While thousands of vaccinated Americans have experienced “breakthrough" infections with Delta, the overwhelming majority have shown mild symptoms. A cluster of such infections in Provincetown, Massachusetts, created panic when it revealed that those testing positive has similarly high counts of viral particles in their nasal passages regardless of their vaccination status.1 This suggests that vaccinated individuals can pass on the Delta strain to others, even if it rarely poses a serious health risk to the vaccinated themselves.
While this is terrible news for the unvaccinated (as well as for the vaccinated but immunocompromised) it may ultimately lead to a positive outcome for the country as a whole.
The experience in the first two countries ravaged by the delta variant show that it sweeps through quickly. In both India and Britain, cases climbed rapidly for several weeks just like in America, but then suddenly began falling as quickly as they rose.2 Why?
The simplest explanation is herd immunity. The pattern suggests that Delta spreads so quickly that it infects every available host until everyone available is sick or immune. While the UK has a higher vaccination rate than the United States (57 percent of British3 vs 50 percent of Americans and just 35 percent of Mississippians4) providing a higher baseline rate of immunity, India did not. At the time the delta wave began to hit India in March, less than 2 percent of the population has been vaccinated.5
In India, there was no rapid deployment of vaccines to counter Delta. Public health systems were unable to do much of anything — hospitals were so overwhelmed that the sick wee dying outside waiting for a bed. People in densely populated shanty towns were unable to social distance. Yet the Delta infection rate in barely vaccinated India soon petered out just like in highly vaccinated Britain.
What Britain’s high vaccination rate did do is prevent large numbers of deaths. The highest weekly death toll in Britain since the Delta wave started was 614 -- far less than in earlier waves. In India, deaths were far higher, peaking at 29,051 deaths on the week ending May 18. Under reporting in India means both the infection rate and the real death rate was likely much worse than we know.6
America’s Delta wave is likely to follow Britain’s pattern. When cases start falling, hopefully within weeks, there will be large numbers of Delta survivors, particularly in the unvaccinated belt across the South. While still unvaccinated, these people will have some level of natural immunity that will help protect them from future infections. This may plug the holes in America’s herd immunity in a way that will protect us all.
To be sure, the natural path to achieving this herd immunity is brutal. Exhausted medical workers are manning full ICU wards across the South, and thousands of misguided Americans who refused the vaccine are dying, Worst of all, the unvaccinated yahoos are taking out many vaccinated but otherwise vulnerable people along with them. But given the stubborn refusal of nearly half of Americans to accept free, safe and effective vaccines, the rest of us should feel no guilt about the country building its herd immunity through their natural infection by the Delta variant.
Of course, there is no guarantee that a future variant will not prove capable of evading America's emerging herd immunity provided by vaccines and natural infections. But until that day comes, America may soon enjoy a return to the joyous pandemic-free life that kicked off this summer.
Related Web Columns:
The Carrot and the Stick, April 20, 2021
2. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Daily Case Reports, August 10, 2021
4. CDC, COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States, August 10, 2021
6. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Daily Case Reports, August 10, 2021