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CDC study: Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die of Covid-19

A trio of new studies from the CDC shows that Covid-19 vaccines remain highly effective against severe illness.

A high school student sits wearing a mask as a nurse administers a Covid vaccine shot.
A nurse gives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot to Gizelle Carrillo, 14, on August 30 at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles.
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ellen Ioanes covers breaking and general assignment news as the weekend reporter at Vox. She previously worked at Business Insider covering the military and global conflicts.

As the Biden administration steps up its efforts to get shots in arms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released a new study that underscores the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against serious illness or death.

The study, which examined hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 over a period of more than three months, found that unvaccinated people are more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 than those who have been vaccinated, and 11 times more likely to die of the virus, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky.

The findings, as well as those from two other studies also released by the CDC on Friday, are still an early release, meaning there could be changes in the final versions. But the results nonetheless provide some clarity about the state of the pandemic while the delta variant continues to make its mark on communities throughout the country.

The study found that as the delta variant became more widespread in the US during the summer, protection against initial infections fell slightly — but the vaccine’s “effectiveness against hospitalization and death showed barely any decline during the entire period,” the Washington Post reported.

Indeed, another of the studies confirmed that effectiveness remains high across the board: On average, the three vaccines available in the US — Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson — were 86 percent effective at preventing hospitalization from Covid-19 and 82 percent effective at preventing visits to the emergency room or urgent care. The researchers also found that Moderna was the most effective at preventing hospitalizations, at 95 percent, with the Johnson & Johnson shot providing about 60 percent protection against hospital admissions.

Despite the remarkable effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines, however, the virus continues to run rampant as the country struggles with resistance to the vaccine.

Americans still lag behind other wealthy countries in vaccine uptake, and only 52.76 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times. Roughly 700,000 vaccine doses are being administered each day in the US, about 300,000 fewer than Japan’s vaccination program currently reports, despite Japan’s smaller population.

Currently, the US is averaging nearly 146,000 new Covid-19 cases per day. (Compare that with June, which saw several consecutive days with fewer than 12,000 reported cases.) At the pandemic’s peak last winter, the country was reporting more than 250,000 cases per day on average.

But a new movement toward stricter vaccine requirements coincides with a 7 percent decrease in daily Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to the latest numbers from the New York Times. Testing has risen by 8 percent during the same period, with more than 1.6 million tests being administered per day on average.

Deaths, however — which tend to lag spikes in new cases — are currently increasing in the US. As of Friday, the country was averaging more than 1,600 deaths per day from the virus. While this statistic is grim, there are signs the delta-fueled summer surge is at least leveling off as more people get vaccinated.

Cases in Mississippi, where the virus has strained hospital capacity beyond its limits, dropped by 37 percent over the past two weeks. In Tennessee, which currently has the most cases per capita of any state, the vaccination rate increased by 47 percent from July 12 to August 2, and the rate at which infections are increasing in the state has started to slow.

“Our patience is wearing thin”

As the US continues to struggle with Covid-19, President Joe Biden announced on September 9 that all private businesses with more than 100 employees must require either vaccination or weekly Covid-19 testing.

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said at a press conference, decrying what he referred to as the “pandemic politics” of Republican leaders who have downplayed Covid-19, spread disinformation, and fought against measures like inoculation and mask-wearing.

“We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal,” Biden said.

Corporate America is also warming to vaccine mandates, with large companies like United Airlines and Tyson Foods implementing vaccine requirements for workers. United, which in August set a deadline of September 27 for all of its US-based employees to get at least one shot, says that more than half of its previously unvaccinated employees have since been vaccinated, according to NPR.

Pediatric Covid-19 cases are on the rise

Despite the significant protection afforded by vaccines, however, not everyone is eligible yet to receive one. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to authorize a Covid-19 vaccine for kids younger than 12, and pediatric Covid-19 cases are surging — particularly in states that have rebuffed mask mandates — as children head back to in-person schooling.

New York City public schools, the largest school system in the country, will test its own Covid-19 policies as the school year begins on Monday. All employees of New York City’s Department of Education are required to be fully vaccinated by September 27.

That’s also the case in Los Angeles, which on Thursday became the first major public school district in the US to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for all eligible students after a unanimous vote by the school board. The district had already imposed the requirement for teachers and staff.

In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is currently fighting to prevent school districts from requiring masks, pediatric deaths from Covid-19 have more than doubled since July. While the number of deaths is still extremely low relative to other age groups — only 17 children have died from Covid-19 in the state since the beginning of the pandemic — seven of those deaths occurred between March 2020, when the outbreak began in the US, and July 2021, a period of 15 months. The other 10 occurred after July 30 this year, Politico reported.

Additionally, according to Politico, the Department of Education is investigating Florida’s attempts to prevent school districts in the state from mandating masks. In a letter sent to Florida Department of Education commissioner Robert Corcoran, Suzanne Goldberg, the deputy assistant secretary for strategic operations and outreach in the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights, warned that the policy could violate the civil rights of children with disabilities by preventing them from “safely returning to in-person education.”

Given the increase in pediatric cases and scrutiny of in-school Covid-19 prevention policies, the pressure is on for vaccine manufacturers to determine whether their inoculations are safe for use in children.

According to Reuters, BioNTech co-founder Özlem Türeci told German news outlet Der Spiegel that it should be able to share the results of its clinical trials on children ages 5 to 11 within the next few weeks and will seek global approval of the vaccine for use in this age group. This means the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could potentially be authorized for eligible children as soon as the end of October, Reuters reported Friday.

BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to manufacture its vaccine, also plans to seek approval for a vaccine for children ages 6 months to 2 years by the end of the year, while Moderna said recently it has filled its roster for clinical trials of its vaccine in children ages 6 to 11 and is working to determine an appropriate dosage for children as young as 6 months.

In the meantime, Biden officials have emphasized that widespread vaccine uptake among eligible Americans is the best way to keep pediatric Covid-19 cases low.

“That’s why this collective responsibility we have as a society to make sure we are not only taking care of our own health, but reducing the chances we pass a virus on to somebody who’s more vulnerable — that’s why this is so important,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Friday. “And that’s what the efforts that the president announced yesterday will help us do: reduce transmission, protect lives, and protect our children as well.”