The rise in US Covid-19 hospitalizations is a self-inflicted wound, expert says

Leo Yrad, RN, takes the blood sugar reading of a Covid-19 patient at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California.

(CNN) -- Health experts blame the recent surges in Covid-19 cases on the low rate of vaccinations, and now the accelerating Delta variant is threatening to increase hospitalizations and deaths as well, one expert has said.

"This is a self-inflicted wound, because we can prevent all of those hospitalizations and deaths -- or at least 98, 99% of them -- if we can encourage vaccination," Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN's Jim Acosta on Thursday.

More than 91 million people live in a county considered to have high Covid-19 transmission, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 48 states have a seven-day average of new cases that's at least 10% higher than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Yet, despite the warnings from health experts, the daily pace of people becoming fully vaccinated keeps falling.

The US government has purchased an additional 200 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, BioNTech said in a press release Friday. More than half should arrive by the end of the year, and the rest by May of next year. That would bring to 500 million the total number of doses supplied by Pfizer.

Only 48.8% of the US population is fully vaccinated, and the seven-day average pace is around 252,000. The average hasn't been above 500,000 fully vaccinated people per day since July 5, according to CDC data.

"We're all thinking that another surge is likely," said UC Davis Medical Center Director of Critical Care Christian Sandrock said in a statement Thursday. "It is frightening. I don't think we'll go back to the worst we've seen, due to the vaccine, but it's hard to tell."

UC Davis epidemiology professor Lorena Garcia said the impact could be extremely devastating on rural communities with lower vaccination rates and limited access to care.

Alabama has the lowest rate of vaccinations at 33.9 percent, CDC numbers reveal. Mississippi has also vaccinated less than 35 percent.

After a news conference Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) encouraged people to get vaccinated.

"These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain," she said. "It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."

In Missouri, additional personnel and equipment are being sent to Springfield-Greene County to support the local healthcare system, Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday.

Some regions are returning to masks in the hopes of slowing the spread.

In Texas, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned that the region is "at the beginning of a potentially very dangerous fourth wave of this pandemic" and raised the threat level from yellow to orange, urging community members to wear masks.

"So, I know they're uncomfortable, I don't like wearing masks either, but until we get the numbers back down, let's all wear masks again," said the judge of the county that includes Houston.

The CDC still recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks, but the choice is up to the individual if they are vaccinated, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday.

"If you are vaccinated, you get exceptional protection from the vaccines, but you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose," she said.

Experts express concern even for vaccinated Americans

Experts are warning that even people who are vaccinated need to be concerned about the surge.

"If there's all kinds of virus around you, if you're in a community with a lot of virus, then because these vaccines are not 100%, it is going to impact you," CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday.

At this time of the summer, transmission rates should be low, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta said, speaking on the same show. In the warm weather of July, people are primarily socializing outside, where the virus is less likely to spread, he said.

Come the drier, colder weather of the fall and winter, transmission rates might go up even more, Gupta added.

"So, this could be as good as it gets at least for a period of time," he said.

For people who are vaccinated, their immune systems are much better equipped to protect them against the virus, but not perfect, Gupta said. Some might not get symptoms if they are infected, but some might end up being protected from hospitalization and still get sick, he said.

Wen compared vaccination to wearing a seat belt: it is a crucial layer of protection, but it is not foolproof against the reckless behavior of others.

"But saying that doesn't mean undermining confidence in seat belts. It just saying that the choices that other people are making influence us, too," Wen said.

Vaccine effectiveness against Delta

Walensky said Thursday that the Delta variant is an "aggressive and much more transmissible" strain of the virus.

"It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and I have seen in my 20-year career," Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

The spread of the variant makes vaccination even more important, Walensky said.

"If you are not vaccinated, please take the Delta variant seriously. This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect," she said.

According to CDC data released earlier this week, the Delta variant represents an estimated 83% of all coronavirus samples sequenced in the last two weeks. The good news is data shows vaccines are working as they did in clinical trials against the variant, Walensky said.

The Los Angeles County health director called the Delta variant a "game-changer," as about 20% of the approximately 4,000 new cases reported in the county in June were among fully vaccinated people.

Most people who were vaccinated experienced only mild symptoms, Health Director Barbara Ferrer explained.

While cases are also rising among vaccinated people, the increase is much smaller and much slower than it is in unvaccinated people, Ferrer said, adding that unvaccinated people face more than five times the risk of vaccinated people.

She said the county's case rate would be higher were it not for the number of vaccinated residents.


™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN's Sarah Moon, Raja Razek, Carma Hassan, Virginia Langmaid and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.

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