Millions of Americans are jeopardizing their health, freedom and finances by not getting vaccinated and putting themselves at risk of the most infectious coronavirus strain yet, current and former federal health officials say.
“Most people will either get vaccinated, or have been previously infected, or they will get this Delta variant,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“And for most people who get this Delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital,” said Gottlieb, who was commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration during the Trump administration.
For those not fully vaccinated, “quality of mask is going to make a difference with a variant that spreads more aggressively, like Delta does, where people are more contagious and exude more virus,” he said.
In research posted online, scientists examining 62 cases of the Delta variant found viral loads about 1,260 times higher than those found from 63 cases from the early epidemic wave in 2020.
The Delta variant is also sending younger and previously healthy people to hospitals – the vast majority of which have not been vaccinated, say doctors in several states suffering surges.
“This year’s virus is not last year’s virus,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“It’s attacking our 40-year-olds. It’s attacking our parents and young grandparents. And it’s getting our kids,” O’Neal said. She said her Covid-19 unit now has more patients in their 20s who were previously healthy.
“You have to get vaccinated,” O’Neal said. “That’s the only way to end it. Masks and mitigation, they’re not going to take it. It’s going to be vaccination.”
Since February, 97% of cases and deaths related to Covid-19 in Louisiana were among people not fully vaccinated, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday.
Like with any vaccine, a small percentage of vaccinated people may get a breakthrough infection. But it’s literally impossible to get Covid-19 from any of the vaccines used in the US because none of them have any coronavirus in them.
“Even if you do have a breakthrough infection – which, again, happens in a very small minority of people – it’s likely to be a mild or asymptomatic infection,” US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday.
But most Americans are not fully vaccinated. As of Sunday, only 48.6% of Americans were fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many Americans have not been vaccinated due to misinformation, which “takes away our freedom and our power to make (educated) decisions for us and our families,” the surgeon general said.
Now, infections of the Delta variant have spread to all 50 states.
In Los Angeles County, the rate of new Covid-19 cases has increased 300% since July 4, the county health department said. Covid-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled from the previous month.
The surge in new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations prompted county officials to reinstate an indoor mask mandate.
Rachel Maginn Rosser recently lost her 63-year-old mother to Covid-19. Rosser, a nurse, said she believes her mom would still be alive had she been vaccinated.
“She was in the best shape of her life. She was working out five times a week with a personal trainer,” Rossner said Saturday. “She loved to go out and have fun. She was a social butterfly. And she got sick, and it was just a slow decline from there.”
Kim Maginn had a sore throat and fever for about a week, said her daughter Rosser, who lives in Arkansas. Maginn was “shocked” when she went to the doctor last month and found out it wasn’t strep, but Covid-19.
Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccinations rates in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And with Covid-19 patients filling up hospital beds, Rosser said she felt “helpless” because she wasn’t able to visit her mother when she was in an intensive care unit.
“I had to stay outside of her room and call her on her cell phone to talk to her,” she said. “She looked really small in the bed. It was hard for her to talk because she was struggling to breathe.”
Rosser said her mother didn’t get vaccinated because she believed that since she hadn’t already been infected, she wasn’t going to get sick.
She said she pleaded for her mom to get vaccinated.
“I tried several different tactics. I laid all the facts out for her. I tried to plead to her emotional side of ‘What would we do without you? Could you imagine our life without you?’” Rosser said.
“Part of me wishes I had tried harder. But she was really stubborn. She was stubborn, but she wasn’t stupid. I think eventually I would have been able to convince her, but she got sick and she got Covid. And so there wasn’t any more time to try and convince her.”
Rosser said she hopes sharing her family’s story will help encourage others who are vaccine hesitant to get vaccinated.
“This virus … doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re old or you’re young, or you’re healthy or you’re not. Once you get it, it can be devastating to your family,” Rosser said.
She encouraged people to “keep talking to their loved ones and keep trying to convince them because I wouldn’t want anybody else to have to go through this.”
While the chances of children dying from Covid-19 are low, more children and teens are getting hospitalized with Covid-19 or suffering long-term complications.
There have been numerous instances of Covid-19 outbreaks at summer camps.
In Utah, officials are investigating Covid-19 cases at more than a dozen summer camps for children, said Aislynn Tolman-Hill, a spokesperson for Utah County’s health department.
“We are hearing and know that there are MANY instances where symptomatic campers are sent home but not getting tested,” Tolman-Hill told CNN in an email.
“This is obviously a huge concern. If we are not made aware of these situations, we cannot do contact tracing and notification of those exposed.”
Local health records in Utah County showed less than 30% of children 12-18 are fully vaccinated. State law prohibits the Utah County Health Department from requiring camps to follow any coronavirus rules or procedures, Tolman-Hill said.
“All we can do is educate and advocate,” she said.
In North Carolina, three out-of-state campers at Camp Daniel Boone Scout Camp in Haywood County tested positive for coronavirus, local health officials said.
The camp canceled its remaining sessions and notified health officials when the trio tested positive on July 14, according to a statement from Daniel Boone Council, Boy Scouts of America. The camp also informed everyone who attended camp during that time of their potential exposure.
The camp had been following its “COVID-19 Mitigation Plan,” which was approved by county health officials, the statement said. Mitigation measures included a pre-event medical screening checklist, daily temperature checks, social distancing, a mask requirement for indoor and group settings and handwashing and sanitizing stations throughout the camp.
“These events bring to light that Covid-19 is still prevalent in our community,” Haywood County Public Health Director Sarah Henderson said.
“It is not gone, and this is not over. We continue to see an uptick in positive cases as people gather in large groups and remain unvaccinated.”
CNN’s Ben Tinker,Andy Rose and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.