The delta variant has been the first real-world test of widely distributed vaccines across the developed world — and it is amazingly effective.
CDC data reports that over 99% of covid-19 deaths in the US since January have been among the unvaccinated. It is a medical miracle that such a highly effective vaccine was developed, tested, and distributed on a massive scale in a matter of months. Although the entire covid-19 pandemic was partly due to one of the greatest public health failures in human history, there are some silver linings to be appreciated.
The new delta variant, being significantly more transmissible and deadly, is delivering another deadly wave of covid across the world — almost exclusively amongst the unvaccinated. While there are reports of decreased effectiveness in preventing symptomatic covid (hence why some fully vaccinated people are contracting the virus), the vaccines still provide remarkable protection against hospitalization and death from all variants. I shiver at the thought of a scenario where there had not been a vaccine developed or distributed in time for a delta-like surge.
Despite the amazing benefits of the vaccine, there is one power that vaccines contain that has not been unlocked yet: herd immunity. No vaccine provides perfect immunity. In order to eradicate terrible diseases such as smallpox, a vast majority of the population must be vaccinated. It is a wonderful circumstance of where taking care of yourself also takes care of others.
However, this also means that when you don’t take the vaccine, you subject yourself and others to harm (especially to those such as the immunocompromised, who are unable to take the vaccine because of legitimate medical reasons).
Unfortunately, this is the situation we find ourselves in today. It is no secret there is a significant portion of the population is either hesitant or outright refuses to take the vaccine. As a result, the delta variant has caused more damage than it should have. With medical professionals warning of another possible covid wave during the upcoming winter holiday season, it is clear that governments must take tougher action against vaccine-hesitant behavior in order to prevent future outbreaks that may require stricter covid regulations (that nobody is eager to go back to).
Most notably, France has taken a strict stance against those who have not received their vaccine by passing legislation that requires a “covid pass” (proof of vaccination or recent negative covid test) for restaurants, travel, and many other amenities. Since then, other EU countries have implemented similar restrictions. It is a controversial policy that is still being met with fierce protests, but vaccination rates have increased significantly within countries that have introduced stricter vaccine enforcement.
The move to essentially require a vaccine to return to ordinary life is certainly a political risk many politicians were hoping not to take, but the delta variant has made the obvious painfully apparent — unvaccinated people will eventually allow for more dangerous mutations to develop, which will cause more cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and possibly render the original vaccines less effective.
And that is not to frame all of the unvaccinated at fault for facilitating the spread of the delta variant. Many across the world do not have easy access to the vaccine or are simply unable to take it due to medical reasons. It is also worth noting that laws that require vaccines for access to restaurants, museums, etc, such as France’s, should not be implemented until the vaccine is made readily available to anyone that wants one. However, in the US, where access to the vaccine is not only made easy, but now comes alongside generous coupons, lottery entries, and cash in many states, there is no legitimate excuse not to get vaccinated.
As if it was not unfair enough that willingly unvaccinated people have enabled the spread of a dangerous variant that is forcing even vaccinated counties back to old covid restrictions, for months, they had also been benefiting from lower covid cases and hospitalizations that the vaccinated have achieved, which allowed for the easing of covid restrictions in the first place. At the very least, those who have done their part in getting the vaccine should not have to wait months to return to some degree of normalcy or be anxious about another variant throwing their lives into turmoil again. In an unsurprising yet ironic twist, those who claim that it is their right not to get vaccinated because of “freedom” actually take freedom away from themselves and others (even though they probably do not follow covid regulations anyway).
Although Biden lacks the executive authority and legislative ability to do anything on the scale of what European countries are committing to, state governments do — and he should push them to pass such laws. The political reality is that although there is a fervent crowd of anti-vaxers who will protest such legislation, vaccinated voters (even liberal ones) will eventually look for someone who will return them to normal life. And there is something more politically unpopular than a vaccine passport — inevitable waves of covid cases and restrictions that will last as long as a significant portion of the country remains unvaccinated.
The road to normalcy is still in front of us, we just need to put a lot more work into paving the rest of it.
Title Image: Yi-Chin Lee / Staff Photographer