99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the US are now in unvaccinated people, CDC head says

Rochelle Walenski CDC
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Nearly all US COVID-19 deaths in recent months were in unvaccinated people, Rochelle Walensky said.
  • People who were not vaccinated are “particularly at risk” of severe disease and death, she said.
  • Cases and hospitalization are up in counties with low vaccination rates, she said.
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Almost all recent COVID-19 deaths in the US were among unvaccinated people, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People who have not been vaccinated “remain susceptible, especially from the transmissible Delta variant, and are particularly at risk for severe illness and death,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, told a press briefing on Thursday.

“Preliminary data from several states over the last few months suggest that 99.5% of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States were in unvaccinated people,” Walensky said.

Walensky did not give a specific time frame for the data.

The estimate is in line with findings from a June analysis from the Associated Press, which found that only 0.8% of people who died from COVID-19 in the US in May were vaccinated.

Walensky’s comments come as the highly transmissible Delta variant is spreading across the country. Estimates published this week from the CDC show that the variant makes up more than half of the cases in the US.

“Although we expected the Delta variant to become the dominant strain in the US, this rapid rise is troubling,” Walensky said, adding that the variant was surging in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates.

Nationwide, hospitalization and deaths remain far lower than the numbers seen in January, due to a successful vaccination campaign, Walensky said.

But cases and hospitalization are rising in US counties where vaccination rates are low, she said.

Walensky said that there were 173 counties with case rates of above 100 cases per 100,000 people. That’s about three times higher than the national average of about 32 cases per 100,000, according to CDC data.

Nine of out ten of those 173 counties had vaccinated fewer than 40% of their residents, she said.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden proposed changes to the US vaccination campaign, including suggesting a door-to-door vaccination efforts.

Walensky also said on Thursday that the authorized vaccines in the US can prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death from the Delta variant.

Real-world data shows that the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines can work against Delta to varying degrees, as Insider’s Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported.

Data from the UK also shows that two shots of Pfizer vaccine can give 88% protection against symptomatic COVID-19.

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