Countries with high vaccination rates have high covid infection rates (can someone tell Ashley?)

By S. V. Subramanian and Akhil Kumar. Source: US National Library of Medicine

The narrative related to the ongoing surge of new covid cases in the United States (US) is argued to be driven by areas with low vaccination rates [1]. A similar narrative also has been observed in countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom [2].

At the same time, Israel was hailed for its swift and high rates of vaccination has seen a substantial resurgence in COVID-19 cases [3]. We investigate the relationship between the percentage of population  fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases across 68 countries and across 2947 counties in the US.

At the country-level, there appears to be no discernable relationship between percentage of population fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases in the last 7 days (Fig. 1).

In fact, the trend line suggests a marginally positive association such that countries with higher percentage of population fully vaccinated have higher COVID-19 cases per 1 million people.

Notably, Israel with over 60% of their population fully vaccinated had the highest COVID-19 cases per 1 million people in the last 7 days.

The lack of a meaningful association between percentage population fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases is further exemplified, for instance, by comparison of Iceland and Portugal. Both countries have over 75% of their population fully vaccinated and have more COVID-19 cases per 1 million people than countries such as Vietnam and South Africa that have around 10% of their population fully vaccinated.

The sole reliance on vaccination as a primary strategy to mitigate COVID-19 and its adverse consequences needs to be re-examined, especially considering the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant and the likelihood of future variants.

Stigmatizing populations can do more harm than good.

Other pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions may need to be put in place alongside increasing vaccination rates. Such course correction, especially with regards to the policy narrative, becomes paramount with emerging scientific evidence on real world effectiveness of the vaccines.

For instance, in a report released from the Ministry of Health in Israel, the effectiveness of 2 doses of the BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine against preventing COVID-19 infection was reported to be 39% [6], substantially lower than the trial efficacy of 96% [7].

It is also emerging that immunity derived from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may not be as strong as immunity acquired through recovery from the COVID-19 virus [8].

A substantial decline in immunity from mRNA vaccines 6-months post immunization has also been reported [9]. Even though vaccinations offers protection to individuals against severe hospitalization and death, the CDC reported an increase from 0.01 to 9% and 0 to 15.1% (between January to May 2021) in the rates of hospitalizations and deaths, respectively, amongst the fully vaccinated [10].

In summary, even as efforts should be made to encourage populations to get vaccinated it should be done so with humility and respect. Stigmatizing populations can do more harm than good.

Importantly, other non-pharmacological prevention efforts (e.g., the importance of basic public health hygiene with regards to maintaining safe distance or handwashing, promoting better frequent and cheaper forms of testing) needs to be renewed in order to strike the balance of learning to live with COVID-19 in the same manner we continue to live a 100 years later with various seasonal alterations of the 1918 Influenza virus.