On being vaccinated

By Marc A. Thiessen

The pandemic is worsening and the delta variant is so infectious, we are told, that we need to return to covid-19 restrictions — even for fully vaccinated Americans. Los Angeles has already reinstated indoor mask mandates, and on Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its previous guidance and recommended that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in certain circumstances. Parents are bracing for a new push from teachers’ unions to delay school reopenings in the fall.

This is absurd. While it is tragic that some unvaccinated Americans are suffering, for the vaccinated, the pandemic is over. The rise in covid-19 cases among the unvaccinated poses no serious threat to those who have been immunized.

The data is clear: According to the CDC, as of July 19, a grand total of 4,072 vaccinated Americans had been hospitalized with symptomatic breakthrough infections, out of more than 161 million who have been fully vaccinated. That is a breakthrough hospitalization rate of less than 0.003 percent. Better still, of those hospitalized, only 849 have died of covid-19. That means the death rate from those breakthrough infections is 0.0005 percent.

To put that in perspective, your chance of dying from a lightning strike is .0007 percent, and your chance of dying from a seasonal flu is 0.1 percent. If you’re vaccinated, you have a much greater chance of dying from a hornet, wasp or bee string, a dog attack, a car crash, drowning, sunstroke, or choking on food than you do of dying from covid-19.

The vast majority of those who do become seriously ill from breakthrough infections are older or have underlying conditions. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the median age of those hospitalized with breakthrough infections is 74. An Israeli study of patients hospitalized with breakthrough infections found that only 4 percent had no co-morbidities. The rest had preexisting illnesses such as cancer or congestive heart failure that predisposed them to severe covid-19.

What this means is that for otherwise healthy vaccinated people — and those who have natural immunity from previous infection — the chance of dying of covid-19 is close to zero.

The same is true for unvaccinated children. As Johns Hopkins University professor Marty Makary points out in the Wall Street Journal, CDC data show that of the more than 600,000 Americans who died with a covid diagnosis code in their record, just 335 were children under 18 — and the CDC has no idea whether they had a preexisting condition and whether their covid diagnosis was incidental or causal. A research team at Johns Hopkins led by Makary looked at 48,000 children under 18 diagnosed with covid-19, and found a mortality rate of zero among children without a preexisting medical condition, such as pediatric cancer. Indeed, there is no official government data to show whether any healthy children have died as a result of covid-19.

The fact is children are at extremely low risk from covid-19. And this much is certain: Teachers who are vaccinated and otherwise healthy face no serious risk from their unvaccinated students. But with the surged caused by the delta variant expected to peak in late August or early September — right when schools are set to open — expect the teacher unions to use delta to demand that schools stay closed until young children are vaccinated.

Sorry, but there is no justification whatsoever not to open schools, or to require that children wear masks or be vaccinated to return to the classroom. And there is no justification to mandate that vaccinated Americans wear masks, or to reimpose any restrictions on the everyday activities of citizens who have either natural or vaccinated immunity.

We should encourage unvaccinated Americans to get immunized for their own sakes. Over 99 percent of deaths occur today in unvaccinated people. These deaths are tragic because they are almost entirely preventable. Anyone in the United States who wants a vaccination can now get it.

But for the rest of us, the vaccines have turned covid-19 from a mortal threat into something little more dangerous than the common cold. Makary tells me, “If you’re vaccinated, you now are living in a world where there’s a seasonal virus that is very mild called covid-19 that could give you mild symptoms season to season, and that’s okay.” Indeed, he points out that there are four seasonal coronaviruses that have circulated in the United States for decades, and that make up about 25 percent of all cases of the common cold. Covid-19 is probably going to become the fifth. “Our battle has never been against the common cold,” he says. “It’s been against death.”

That battle has been won. We may need boosters down the line. And if new variants emerge, mRNA technology can quickly be adapted to target and defeat them. The period when we were defenseless against the virus is over. It’s time to live our lives again.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.