WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the country is no longer expected to reach the goal of getting 70% of adults COVID-vaccinated by the Fourth of July, those that have been are making a real difference.
“What we're going to see is a transition away from focusing on cases, to really looking at hospitalizations and serious disease cases,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which began tracking COVID-19 from the start.
The numbers show the dramatic decline of COVID deaths since the start of the year-- from a daily high of more than 4,000 deaths in January now down to just over 400 a day this month.
“The difference between what will happen in the future versus what happened in the recent past is that the ability of this virus to cause a crisis, to really inundate a hospital, has been removed because of the level of vaccination and high-risk individuals, because the level of natural immunity,” Dr. Adalja said.
Experts say that means future surges may be defined not by how many positive cases or deaths occur, but instead, what strain they place on hospitals.
“We've got to stop focusing on cases and really look at hospitalizations because that's what flattening the curve was all about,” Dr. Adalja said. “It was about preserving hospital capacity, and with the way we've rolled out this vaccine in the United States, we've largely accomplished that.”
Still, in states with lower vaccination rates, hospitalizations are beginning to creep up again, like at one hospital in Missouri.
“Well, we've seen now in four and a half weeks, almost a six-fold increase in COVID patients,” said CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards, which runs the Springfield, MO hospital. “We're seeing this sort of unexpected increase in cases. We never imagined this big of an increase."
That is why Dr. Adalja said it is critical for as many people as possible to get vaccinated especially with COVID variants circulating – like the Delta variant – which could take root and spread.
“That's why it's so important to have as high a vaccination number as possible because it's what keeps these variants from putting us into trouble,” Dr. Adalja said
It may also be what keeps the country from returning to the pandemic’s darkest days.