In early summer, it seemed as though the war against COVID-19 was all but won. Vaccination rates weren’t as high as the Biden administration might have initially predicted (the initial goal was to vaccinate an estimated 70% of Americans by July 4), but vaccine rates were rising across the country, and many Americans had made the vital decision to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated. Businesses were reopening. The economy seemed like it was on the path to recovery. The CDC relaxed masking recommendations for vaccinated individuals. COVID-19 cases were decreasing dramatically, and many people felt comfortable going about life almost as normal.
Then the Delta variant hit.
Suddenly, many people were faced all over again with the question of whether they were going to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones. Vaccination rates, once sluggish, started to increase again as the unvaccinated spoke out about the importance of vaccination. In spite of those changes, however, many Americans continue to choose not to get vaccinated.70% of adults had received at least one vaccine by August 2. Around 50.7% of the US adult population had been fully vaccinated by August 15.
Now, the United States is split heavily between the vaccinated and unvaccinated–and there are a number of issues for the unvaccinated to consider as more information about the pandemic continues to come to light.
The Pandemic of the Unvaccinated
In mid-July, the CDC warned of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” While the CDC no longer tracks mild breakthrough cases–cases of COVID-19 acquired after vaccination that are, generally speaking, mild, the agency continues to track hospitalization and death among vaccinated individuals. Even as hospitals across the nation are overwhelmed with ongoing COVID-19 cases, fully vaccinated individuals make up as little as .1% to as much as 5% of hospitalized cases. States with high overall vaccine uptake among eligible individuals (children under age 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination) see fewer COVID-19 hotspots, and their medical professionals and hospitals may see less overall strain from the latest outbreak currently pounding across the nation.
Vaccinated individuals can still catch and spread COVID-19. Many unvaccinated individuals have jumped on that reality with increasing intensity as they seek to justify their decision to avoid vaccination. As the CDC reversed its masking recommendations and indicated that even vaccinated individuals in areas of high transmission should wear masks in crowded indoor areas, it became clear that even fully-vaccinated individuals were not out of the woods yet. The risk, however, remains much higher for the unvaccinated–and the potentially immunocompromised–than those who have been fully vaccinated.
Even minor contact with an individual infected with the Delta variant could be enough to cause an unvaccinated individual to fall ill. While vaccinated individuals do not have to take such precautions as isolating after a known interaction with someone with COVID-19, unvaccinated individuals still face heavy quarantine recommendations. As a result, the division between vaccinated and unvaccinated has become more apparent–and perhaps more dangerous–than ever.
An increasing number of places, from restaurants and bars to crowded concert venues, are placing restrictions on who can attend their events–and they’re basing those restrictions on whether the individuals in question have received their vaccines. In North Carolina, Live Nation-owned venues will have to show either a vaccine card or a negative COVID-19 test in order to gain entry to the venue. New York City requires workers and guests alike to show proof of at least one vaccine before dining indoors or gathering in a number of other crowded venues. Many companies, including Disney, Facebook, and Google, are requiring vaccination for employees who intend to return to in-person work in the near future–and others are imposing pay cuts on workers who want to continue to work from home as things go “back to normal” in many organizations. Even private gatherings are often exclusive to those who have been vaccinated and, in some cases, people who are ineligible for vaccination.
Vaccine privilege is becoming increasingly real–and many unvaccinated individuals are becoming increasingly frustrated by it. Unvaccinated people feel strongly that they should not have their rights infringed because they have chosen not to take the vaccine. Vaccinated individuals, on the other hand, want to be able to interact more safely and go about their normal way of life as much as possible–and they often feel that vaccine holdouts are making it increasingly difficult to achieve their goal of normalcy.
As these requirements continue, vaccinated individuals may find themselves in a position that allows for much easier advancement than individuals who have chosen to forego the vaccine. Vaccinated individuals can travel more freely, engage in more activities, and seek employment with a wider range of organizations. They may feel more comfortable going back to work in an in-person environment, with or without masking.
The Divide Continues
In many cases, unvaccinated individuals do not just pose a risk because they have a higher chance of catching and transmitting COVID-19. They often pose another heavy hazard: unvaccinated individuals who are deliberately refusing the vaccine may already feel more comfortable interacting without masks on, and they may be less likely, in general, to mask up.
The divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated is much larger, in many areas, than the decision to get–or not get–the shot. Many unvaccinated individuals tout ideals like “refusing to live in fear.” To them, masking and social distancing–measures that have proven incredibly effective in reducing overall COVID-19 transmission–reflect just as much potential fear as the vaccine itself. As a result, political and ideological pressure around the COVID-19 vaccine continues.
Continuing Vaccine Hesitancy: Why the Holdouts?
Out of the people who have thus far not received their COVID-19 vaccines, around 45% still say that they will “definitely not” get the shot any time soon, according to a recent poll. Only around 3% say they will definitely get the shot, and about 16% admit that they will probably get it.
Some of them don’t think that the vaccine is suitably effective against the COVID-19 variant. Others simply do not feel that COVID-19 is a substantial enough threat to justify the vaccine–and unfortunately, those are also the individuals who are most likely to ignore social distancing and masking regulations. Many of these individuals share a common distrust in institutions, including the government–and they’re reluctant to allow those organizational bodies to make decisions for them regarding their health.
Lack of Access
Americans who still intend to get the vaccine as soon as possible, lack of access seems to remain a continuing challenge. While the COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available in all areas–and most people can now more easily choose which vaccine they may receive–some rural areas are struggling to get enough access for all their citizens. Furthermore, many people worry about the potential limitations imposed by the vaccine. With side effects ranging from very mild to severe headache and fever that could prevent people from taking on their usual work responsibilities, many people may worry that they will end up out of work–and missing vital income–if they go ahead and take the vaccine, especially that vital second shot. An overfull schedule can also make it difficult to make it in to get a vaccine, even at a walk-in location.
Worry About Side Effects
The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in America were developed very quickly to help curb the pandemic. As a result, many people worry that their long-term effects have not yet been fully studied. Worse, inaccurate information has been spread across the internet, making it incredibly difficult to discern fact from fiction. Some claims suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines could cause long-term health risks or even infertility. The widespread misinformation has served to push many Americans to put off the vaccine–and to convince them that it simply isn’t safe, despite the mounting number of individuals who have received the vaccine and suffered few to no side effects. In reality, the vaccines are very safe–and what side effects people do suffer are often mild and fairly short-lived. Unfortunately, with misinformation more readily available than an accurate assessment of potential dangers, it is increasingly difficult to provide the proof anti-vapers need in order to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.
As the Delta variant continues to rage, America remains divided between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Hospitals are flooded with individuals who, in the vast majority of cases, have chosen not to be vaccinated. Unfortunately, that means the continuing risk for the American population as a whole, including the strain on finite resources like hospital beds, medical equipment, and personnel. While vaccine rates are increasing, it will be weeks yet before those vaccines convey protection on the individuals taking them now–and in the meantime, the threat to the unvaccinated continues.
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Healthcare Solutions Team is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National General Insurance Group and The Allstate Insurance Company.