COVID Cases Falling Where People Are Vaccinated, Rising Where They're Not

by Christina Marfice
Michael Ciaglo/Getty

A Washington Post analysis of COVID cases nationwide found that fewer people are getting sick in states with higher vaccination rates, while states with fewer vaccinated people have rising case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths

Even though vaccination rates in the U.S. are beginning to slow, more than half — 52 percent, to be exact — of the total population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, that rate doesn’t paint the true picture, which is that some states have much higher vaccination rates than others — and the divide is even more stark when you look at data on a county-by-county level.

Now, a Washington Post analysis of U.S. cases has shown some unsurprising but still disturbing data: That coronavirus cases are falling in areas where many people are vaccinated, while cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the rise in areas where fewer people have gotten a shot.

Though the country as a whole is seeing just 16,000 new COVID cases a day — numbers as low as in the early days of March, 2020 — cases are not evenly distributed across the U.S. The new analysis found that in counties with high vaccination rates (over 40 percent vaccinated), case rates were trending steadily and steeply downward. But in counties with low vaccination rates (under 20 percent vaccinated), not only were infection rates rising, but so were total numbers of cases.

Scientists have been closely tracking COVID cases in different parts of the country, and as recently as 10 days ago, there wasn’t that much difference in case numbers between places with high vaccination rates and places with low vaccination rates. These new numbers show that the country may have just reached a tipping point in its vaccination rates — but the danger isn’t over yet.

Scientists now fear that unvaccinated people who have abandoned masks and social distancing could spread more contagious COVID-19 virus variants, even to those who are vaccinated. “If the unvaccinated continue to behave as though they’re vaccinated,” Michael Saag, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Post, we could begin to see another summer surge in cases.

“Without the variants, basically the epidemic would be over in the U.S.,” Trevor Bedford, evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, added. “The previous non-variant viruses have been dying fairly rapidly.”

In other news, we’re far from out of the woods yet. Although vaccines aren’t as effective against some new variants of the COVID-19, they still do offer strong protection. The best way to avoid surges of those variants is to increase vaccination rates even more, scientists say.