With the Delta variant accounting for more than a quarter of Covid-19 cases, there could soon be “two Americas" — one where most people are vaccinated and another where low vaccination rates could lead to case spikes, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned.
The stark disparity between places with low and high vaccination rates is something Fauci is “very concerned about," he told CNN on Tuesday.
“When you have such a low level of vaccination superimposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among undervaccinated regions — be that states, cities or counties — you’re going to see these individual types of blips," he said. “It’s almost like it’s going to be two Americas."
But spikes in coronavirus cases are “entirely avoidable, entirely preventable" with vaccination, said Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I’m concerned about the Delta variant," US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN Wednesday. “And I am worried that what we are seeing in terms of a plateauing of cases nationally but also an increase in cases in many small sections of the United States, that that is, in fact, being driven by the Delta variant."
There is still a lot of virus circulating in the US, and close to 300 people — “just far too many" — are still dying daily from the coronavirus, Murthy said, citing data from recent weeks.
“This is not over, and the virus wins when we let our guard down, when we take our eye off the ball," he said. “We’ve seen many times that it’s fooled us in the past. We’ve got to stay vigilant, got to get vaccinated, we’ve got to talk to other people about getting vaccinated."
Indeed, the rise and spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants are changing the equation for achieving herd immunity — the point at which enough people are protected against a virus to suppress its spread — a coronavirus specialist told CNN on Tuesday.
Fauci’s remarks come as the Delta variant, which is more contagious and aggressive, has reached nearly every state and accounted for 26.1% of US Covid-19 cases as of Tuesday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Every time a virus gets better at transmitting, the number of people that have to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity increases," said Andrew Pekosz, a professor of immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is studying the coronavirus.
“Certainly, we are not out of the woods yet because we haven’t had a vaccination rate where we get those herd immunity effects."
Places with low vaccination rates are especially vulnerable to the Delta variant, experts have said.
In Mississippi, where just 29.7% of the population is fully vaccinated, unvaccinated people have accounted for more than 90% of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the past month, said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer for the Mississippi Department of Public Health.
Mississippi joins Alabama, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Louisiana in having less than 35% of residents fully vaccinated.