June 23, 2021 -- Will differences in COVID vaccination rates across the country ultimately divide America?
The highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus is on the rise in the U.S., leading the CDC to predict that this concerning strain will soon predominate.
This outlook leads to the question about whether areas of the country with lower vaccination rates could experience worse outcomes. And if so, could the disparity lead to ‘two Americas’?
"COVID-19 and its variants, including the delta strain, will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future," David Hirschwerk, MD, an infectious disease expert at Northwell Health in Manhasset, N.Y., tells Medscape.
"So far, so good," Hirschwerk adds, speaking to research looking at current vaccine efficacy against different strains of SARS-CoV-2. For the unvaccinated, however, "it is a major concern, because the current variants circulating are far more contagious and can make people much sicker."
Theo Vos, MD, PhD, a Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, agrees.
"The delta variant appears to be more infectious than its precursor variants and that means it may take less for explosive spread, particularly among populations with low coverage of vaccination," he says.
Variants and vaccination rate differences will require vigilance, Hirschwerk says. "Hotspots are likely to occur in areas where vaccine uptake lags,” he warns.
When asked if a 'two Americas' scenario is possible, "there are clear patterns with lower willingness in the Midwest and Southwest [and] with a worse picture in rural postcodes," Vos says.
Whether regional differences in vaccination rates will translate directly to differences in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality depends onseveral factors.
"Unfortunately, low willingness for vaccination is often combined w...