Last month saw an increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the U.S. While deaths remain far lower than they were before the vaccine rollout, they too saw a slight uptick. These numbers have led to vaccine mandates across many industries – and an increase in vaccinations in hard-hit areas.
Why Get Vaccinated?
Per official CDC data, as of July 19, 161 million people have been fully vaccinated against Covid, with 849 deaths (0.0005%) and 4,072 hospitalizations (0.0025%) due to Covid coming from that group. Thus, many entities are taking action to prevent such worst-case outcomes from Covid.
The vaccines don’t guarantee that their recipients won’t get Covid, though. However, they do offer greater protection that reduces the risk and severity of so-called “breakthrough infections.”
Writing for the Atlantic, Harvard-educated immunobiologist Dr. Katherine Wu notes, “These [breakthrough] cases are, on average, gentler and less symptomatic; faster-resolving, with less virus lingering – and, it appears, less likely to pass the pathogen on.”
Thus, breakthrough infections – which Wu adds will increase as a proportion of total cases as vaccine uptake rises – don’t necessarily spell bad news.
Dr. Lou and IIFX’s associate director, Chris Kinnan, were both fully vaccinated, but contracted breakthrough Covid infections during a conference in Las Vegas. Both agree that vaccination led to their cases being relatively mild. Fatigue, temporary effects on taste and smell, and stuffiness were their primary symptoms. Both received monoclonal antibody infusions, which they said were painless and effective.
In their view, vaccination makes it likely that any breakthrough Covid infection will be relatively mild – and unlikely that you will require any hospitalization. They strongly recommend vaccination!
Additionally, not all breakthrough cases may be “real” breakthroughs. UC San Francisco infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi notes in a Twitter thread that PCR tests are so sensitive that they can pick up dead virus particles after antibodies in the nose neutralize Covid.
“I don’t call this a ‘breakthrough,’ I call this vaccine success,” she notes.
What About the New CDC Guidance?
The CDC did recommend individuals in areas with high community spread resume wearing masks, though. The recommendation comes after an outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., that saw nearly 900 infections, with 75% of infections among vaccinated individuals and vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals carrying similar, high viral loads.
However, per the New York Times’ Apoorva Mandavilli, just five fully vaccinated people were hospitalized, and two of them had underlying medical conditions. Provincetown town manager Alex Morse puts the total hospitalizations at seven, but says symptoms were “largely mild” and credits vaccination with containing the outbreak.
Mandavilli also cites data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which reports, “The rate of breakthrough cases is less than 1 percent among fully vaccinated people in states that keep such data.” (25 states report such data, with 15 updating regularly and 10 more sporadically.)
Additionally, Dr. Eric Topol, a physician and author, cites a study showing that when breakthrough Delta infections do occur, they are “much shorter in duration” and thus have “less potential for spread.”
Questions Surrounding Vaccine Mandates
While vaccines clearly help in the fight against Covid, some people and organizations have questions about vaccine mandates.
A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s mandatory vaccination policy, potentially paving the way for similar vaccine mandates.
U.S. District Court Judge Damon Leichty wrote, “This university policy isn’t forced vaccination. The students have options – taking the vaccine, applying for a religious exemption, applying for a medical exemption, applying for a medical deferral, taking a semester off, or attending another university.”
Students still face a choice, though, and the alternative to getting vaccinated is accepting a different educational experience.
The Houston Methodist Hospital System saw a similar high-profile row over vaccine mandates. Per the AP, nearly 25,000 of the system’s 26,000 employees received Covid shots, but Methodist fired over 150 who didn’t.
117 employees sued Methodist over the mandate. U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that “[an employee] can freely choose to accept or refuse a Covid-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else.”
Like the Indiana students, these workers have a choice in the matter, but one option entails a change in employment. In both cases, though, judges favored broader public health over potential disruptions to vaccine-hesitant individuals’ lives.
Some organizations are more hesitant to force such a choice just yet, however. The Washington Examiner notes that the city of San Francisco, several higher education institutions, and a Massachusetts hospital system are awaiting full FDA approval of the vaccines to enforce mandates. The publication also adds that private businesses fear lawsuits over mandates for employees, but some are going ahead with them. Per CNN, Google, Facebook, Walmart, and Disney are among the most prominent with some sort of mandate.
Where Else are Vaccine Mandates Happening?
According to Becker’s Hospital Review, over 50 hospital systems are implementing vaccine mandates. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also announced that all of its healthcare workers must take a Covid vaccine. This move made the VA the first federal agency with a vaccine mandate, and other arms of the federal government are following suit.
Per University Business, several hundred universities in 37 states and D.C. are mandating vaccines. Additionally, at least 12 universities or university systems are mandating vaccines pending FDA approval.
Cruise Critic outlines Covid protocols for major cruise lines, with most requiring vaccination and/or a negative test result.
Forbes summarizes major airlines’ Covid procedures. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, Australia-based Alliance and Qantas, and U.S. carriers Delta and United have some form of vaccine mandates for their crews. Additionally, UAE-based Etihad announced in February that all of its on-board crew had received a Covid vaccine.
Meanwhile, the NFL has laid out a “substantial incentive” for its players to get vaccinated: If a team cannot field a roster due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players, they must forfeit. Additionally, the Southeastern Conference, the preeminent college football league, has hinted at a similar policy.
What’s Next in the Pandemic?
Ultimately, no one knows for sure. But the United Kingdom is a few weeks ahead of the U.S. in terms of the predominance of the Delta variant, and it is seeing improvement. Cases are falling again after a Delta-induced surge.
Hopefully for the U.S., that trend will hold true across the pond too. Some early signs say it might well be.
Vaccinations can also continue to beat back the worst effects of Covid and return society to normal for good. Find vaccines near you here.
Thank you for reading this free IIFX content. We are working to help our members create a Fancentric fan experience – a 360º journey that begins in the homes of spectators, staff, and talent. You can join us on that journey by subscribing. Also be sure to sign up for our biweekly newsletter, the IIFXtra, to get a mix of exclusive and unlocked content as soon as we publish it.