A nation divided: Almost all U.S. COVID deaths are among the unvaccinated

Despite evidence that the vaccine is both effective and safe, vaccine hesitancy is rampant amongst conservatives

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published June 25, 2021 4:03PM (EDT)

A beneficiary receives a dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at a district hospital, on June 24, 2021 in Noida, India. (Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
A beneficiary receives a dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at a district hospital, on June 24, 2021 in Noida, India. (Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Nearly all Covid-related deaths in the U.S. are people who have not yet been vaccinated, meaning that fatal cases of the virus are "at this point entirely preventable" due to the efficacy of the shots, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Pulling from government data, AP News confirmed these findings in a Thursday analysis, which found that, out of the 853,000 people hospitalized throughout the U.S. in May, just 1,200 of them were vaccinated, a proportion that corresponds to roughly 0.1%. 

AP similarly found 150 vaccinated Americans accounted for the 18,000 Covid-related deaths over that month, which translates to about 0.8%. 

Dr. Paul Offit, a top official at the the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC that breakthrough infections – or illnesses that occur in the case of vaccinated individuals – are "to be expected." He explained: "The vaccines aren't 100% effective, even against severe disease. Very small percentage of the 600,000 deaths."

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong also smoothed over concerns about breakthrough infections, telling CNBC: "You are just as likely to be killed by a meteorite as [you are to] die from Covid after a vaccine. In the big scheme of things, the vaccines are tremendously powerful."

According to AP, the daily COVID death toll has plummeted since this January from 3,400 to under 300. Approximately 63% percent of all vaccine-eligible Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Moreover, 53% of this group has been fully inoculated. 

For seniors, who are most vulnerable to hospitalization, the CDC found that one dose of the vaccine made Americans ages 65 and up about 64% less likely to be hospitalized. It likewise found that fully vaccinated seniors were 94% less at risk of hospitalization. 

"The second shot is critical," Offit told NBC News. "We know from the phase one studies that the second shot induces a level of virus-specific neutralizing antibodies that's about tenfold greater than that after the first dose."

Despite evidence that the vaccine is both effective and safe for use, vaccine hesitancy lingers in the U.S., especially amongst conservatives, making Republican leaders especially poised to have an impact on these fears.

As Salon reported back in March, Republican men exhibited a disproportionately high amount of vaccine hesitancy, with 49% of all Republican men claiming they were not willing to take the shot. For Democratic men, this number hovered around 6%, according to a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll.

On a state-by-state basis, AP found that Arkansas had the lowest vaccination rate, with 33% of its population fully vaccinated. The state has recently seen hospitalizations and deaths rise

Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  warned this week that the U.S. may soon see an uptick of infections within clusters of Americans who remain unvaccinated.

"There is so much misinformation out there about the vaccine, coming through so many channels -- a lot of it being spread on social media," Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general, told CNN's Erin Burnett. "It's inducing a lot of fear among people."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Brief Covid Deaths Pandemic Toll Unvaccinated Vaccinated