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The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The only way out of this delta variant misery is through vaccinations

Patients wait in line to get a coronavirus test at a mobile testing site hosted in Palmetto, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 2. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)
Comment

The summer of fun has become, suddenly, the summer of pandemic misery, with case counts rising, especially in some southern states and unvaccinated areas, driven by the delta variant. But there is a simple, effective and proven firewall that will stop the flames: vaccines. They are free and available, and they can save lives.

A legitimate source of anxiety that cropped up recently is the prospect of breakthrough infections — people getting sick even though they have been vaccinated. In an outbreak following crowded July Fourth holiday gatherings in Provincetown, Mass., 469 Massachusetts residents tested positive, 74 percent of whom had been previously vaccinated, suggesting the vaccine firewall had cracked. Of those, 79 percent had symptoms, mostly mild. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, cited the CDC’s study as one factor leading the agency to call for a return to indoor masking in public spaces for vaccinated people. But the Provincetown study should not be seen as a sign that vaccines are broken. To the contrary, they are robust. Provincetown was a jam-packed holiday scene, with many people indoors in bars and restaurants, not wearing masks. Of all those infected, only seven were hospitalized and no one died. The vaccines worked.

Look at a chart from the CDC’s internal presentation that was first disclosed by The Post. It shows that vaccinated people have a 25-fold reduction in hospitalization and death compared with the unvaccinated, and an eightfold decline in disease incidence. In another measure, the vaccine was efficacious among 91 percent of the fully vaccinated and 81 percent of the partially vaccinated. Vaccine breakthroughs are a known issue, they will happen, but among the 163 million people who had been fully vaccinated by July 26, the CDC reported a minuscule share, 6,587 hospitalizations or deaths, due to breakthrough infections, and some were from other causes.

The CDC turnabout on masks caused confusion, in part because it marked a retreat from high expectations of a normal summer, and in part because of fragmented and rapidly-changing government advice. But if we are going to trust the science, that means sticking with it when conditions change. The delta variant washed over the United States in June, and has proved quite contagious. The average number of people each infected person passes a virus to, if nobody were immune and no one took precautions, is the basic reproductive number. For the original virus that broke out in Wuhan, China, it was 2.4 to 2.6. The CDC internal presentation says delta has an R-naught of between 5 and 9, making it more transmissible than Middle East respiratory syndrome and Ebola, about the same as chicken pox, and less than measles, which is ultra-contagious at 15.

Instead of fretting and arguing, let’s confront delta directly and wear masks and get vaccinated. At this point vaccine mandates by many kinds of organizations are justified; the time for polite requests has passed. But it should be a matter of common sense: Mask up and get vaccinated to save yourself and everyone else.

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