I remember the exact moment I thought we had finally made it to the end of the pandemic.
Newly vaccinated and unmasked, I was seeing A Quiet Place II in theaters. It felt freeing, that life would return to normal; that just entering someone’s home could no longer infect you with a deadly disease.
But that joy and excitement I felt in that moment slowly evaporated as the Delta Variant led to a spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths that has continued since July. With the possibility of quickly ending the pandemic now gone, how do we keep going?
The answer to that question lies in vaccines, the same answer we have had since the start of this pandemic. As of Dec. 10, 60 percent of the eligible U.S. population is fully vaccinated, data from The New York Times shows. But that number lags in comparison to vaccination rates in other developed nations such Canada (78 percent), France (71 percent), Spain (80 percent), and Japan (78 percent), The Times also found.
The problems the U.S. is currently facing boil down to that disparity. If a higher percentage of Americans were vaccinated, we would not face the issue currently before us. Unvaccinated Americans represent five times as many cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people compared to those fully vaccinated, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found.
Any improvement in America’s Covid-19 outlook will result from closing the vaccination rate gap. The good news is that the Biden administration is trying to do just that. They announced a vaccine mandate for companies with over 100 employees in a Nov. 4 White House statement. It will apply to 84 million Americans, and provide a strong push for those eligible to get vaccinated across the country. While it is currently facing a legal challenge from multiple attorneys general and may possibly be overturned, over 20 states have announced separate vaccine mandates. State governments have a strong case, as there is legal precedent dating back to the 1905 case Jacobson v. Massachusetts that supports a state’s power to enforce vaccine mandates.
Absent the vaccine mandate, the rate at which Americans are getting vaccinated is also increasing. Data from the CDC shows that by Dec. 8 an average of over 500,000 new Americans were receiving their first dose daily. That is up from a low of 200,000 new Americans in July, the CDC shows.
While it is easy to become defeatist and worry that our Covid-19 situation will never improve, the numbers paint a different picture. Unvaccinated Americans represent 12 times as many hospitalized cases compared to vaccinated people. The vaccines work and provide strong protection against severe illness, and as more people get vaccinated, the strain on our healthcare system is reduced.
It is hard to wake up each day with a Covid-19 reality similar to the day before: you still have to wear a mask in public and certain activities remain shut down while they’re high risk. Spending each day following the same precautions that were in place before makes it easy to believe things will never get better. But that hides the progress being made as new treatments are discovered and more people get vaccinated. Those both carry immense benefits and make any perceived “return to normal” much easier.
News of the Omicron Variant has been particularly disappointing as we were quickly reminded of the possibility of travel bans and infection. But the antidote to spiraling into a state of panic is that the vaccines are believed to remain effective, especially when combined with a booster shot, The Times reported in an article titled “Pfizer’s vaccine provides some protection against Omicron, a lab study suggests” on Dec. 7.
Case counts might change and variants might have new names, but the answer will still be that by wearing your mask and getting vaccinated we will bring an end to this pandemic.
Despite our wishes, the pandemic will not end immediately. But if we continue our efforts, it can be over sooner than we think.