Five clusters of unvaccinated Americans could put the entire country at risk for future COVID-19 spikes, a new analysis finds.
COVID-19 vaccination is extremely uneven in the US, with rates exceeding 70 percent in some counties while others are below 30 percent.
The clusters of counties — making up 15 million Americans — all have vaccination rates below 30 percent and span 12 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.
Such spikes could be amplified by the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, a super-infectious variant now linked to most new cases in the US
US officials and public health experts are pushing for vaccination to prevent future spikes — and the emergence of even more dangerous variants — in counties like those identified by this study.
Five clusters of unvaccinated Americans in southeastern US could put entire country at risk for future COVID-19 spikes
If counties in the South and Midwest remain undervaccinated, they could cause Covid outbreaks and more dangerous variants, researchers say. Pictured: A teen gets his chance in Antioch, California
By July 7, 48 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, while 55 percent have received at least one dose.
The nation missed President Biden’s grand goal on July 4 to vaccinate 70 percent of adults with at least one shot. The number of adults — not children — receiving at least one dose is 67.2 percent as of July 7.
But vaccination rates vary drastically by state — and even more drastically by province.
About 80 counties have fully vaccinated at least 60 percent of their populations, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many of these counties are located in the northeast and west coast. For example, in all but one of Connecticut’s eight counties, at least half of the population is fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, many counties in the South and Midwest are far from protected from the coronavirus.
More than 1,000 counties have fully vaccinated less than 30 percent of their population.
A group of researchers from Georgetown University’s US COVID-19 Vaccination Tracking Project has examined these differences.
The researchers identified 30 clusters of provinces which have both low vaccination rates and large populations – making them likely drivers of virus spread in surrounding regions.
Their analysis included data from some state public health departments — such as Texas and West Virginia — because the CDC does not provide data for many counties in these states.
“Parts of the country are just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, than they were in December 2020,” Dr. Shweta Bansal, Georgetown biology professor and lead researcher on the analysis, told CNN.
Of those 30 clusters, Bansal and her colleagues identified five that are particularly vulnerable — and pose particularly high risk.
These five clusters are mainly located in the southeastern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.
Together, the five clusters of concern comprise more than 15 million people — only 28 percent of whom have been fully vaccinated.
Some counties in the Northeast and West Coast are nearly 80% vaccinated, while many in the South and Midwest are well below 30%
The Delta variant – represented by orange on these pie charts – is prevalent in the Midwest and parts of the South, where fewer people are vaccinated
The researchers said it is important to identify clusters because people who are geographically closer together are more likely to interact and transmit CIVUD-19.
Thus, a suburban Texas county with low vaccination coverage that is close to other suburban counties with low vaccination coverage is more likely to be part of a major outbreak than a rural county in Vermont, where people are more dispersed and more likely to vaccinated at the state level.
“These clusters of unvaccinated people are standing in our way of taking this virus down permanently,” said CNN’s medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner.
The Delta variant makes outbreaks in undervaccinated areas even more likely.
This variant now causes 51.7 percent of new cases in the country and is spreading incredibly quickly, with the proportion of cases doubling every two weeks.
While the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all work well against this variant, unvaccinated Americans remain extremely vulnerable.
In undervaccinated Springfield, Missouri, for example, 96 percent of the variant cases identified in June were Delta.
The province is currently facing a Covid wave with record numbers of patients in local hospitals.
Outbreaks in unvaccinated regions — such as those five province clusters — could present opportunities for the Delta variant to mutate even further.
Each time a new person becomes infected, the virus has a chance to become a little more transmissible — or a little more deadly.
Public health experts fear that the virus will inevitably mutate into a variant against which our current vaccines offer little protection.
As a result, experts like Bansal are encouraging vaccination, especially for those living in undervaccinated communities.
“Consider your deductible this holiday weekend and this summer in light of your community’s risk,” she says wrote on Twitter on July 4.
“Mask and social distancing to continue protecting yourself and others while having fun safely.”