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COVID cases and deaths in the US have plummeted.

The vaccines are widely available, free, and safe – at least in the US.

And that’s why life in the US is looking more and more normal, even as the vaccine hits terrible new highs in countries without access to half a dozen safe and effective vaccines.

So if the vaccine is so great – why have the daily doses given in the US dropped from 4 million daily in mid-April to about 1.23 million? Epidemiologists say the fact that 41% of the country’s population is now fully vaccinated is largely responsible for the 45% decrease to about 17,000 new cases and about 356 deaths per day. A total of 51% got at least one shot.

However, only 36% of Arizona nationals are fully vaccinated and 46% have received at least one dose. Perhaps that’s why the state still reports about 540 new cases every day – a decrease of only 4% from two weeks ago. In Arizona, deaths have actually increased 13% to about 8 per day.

And yet Arizona can’t give the vaccine away for free – about 60,000 doses of the three approved vaccines are about to expire.

Elsewhere, people are desperately looking for a vaccine to deal with a pandemic that is still killing 12,000 people every day.

The association between vaccination rates and new cases holds true in northern Arizona as well.

In Navajo County, 41% were fully vaccinated, including 67% of those over 65. The county beats the state average, largely thanks to the 60% complete vaccination rate on the Navajo reservation. Even so, Navajo County still reports 10 new cases per 100,000 population – one of the highest rates in the state.

Compare Navajo County to neighboring Apache County. 51% of all residents there are fully vaccinated, including 78% of those over 65 years of age. Here, too, the high vaccination rate in the Navajo reservation contributes to a large extent to this result. The infection rate in Apache County has dropped to 2 per 100,000 – one of the lowest rates in the state.

Meanwhile, the news for those vaccinated is getting better and better.

First of all, the virus continues to mutate. The strain that ravaged India is about 50% more contagious than the strain that Britain forced a second lockdown. The Great Britain variety is now dominant in Arizona, but the Indian variety seems poised to displace it. Fortunately, the current vaccines work almost as well against the new strains as against the original.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both prevent 95% of infections. So if 80% of Americans get the injection, the US pandemic will simply go away. Even new cases brought in from one country would only form isolated clusters – mostly among the 20% who did not receive the vaccination. A relative handful of people who have been vaccinated have had “breakthrough infections” – but generally they have had mild symptoms.

Better still, research now shows that the vaccine offers long-lasting protection. Early research showed that infection – or vaccination – generally produced very high levels of fast-acting, protective antibodies. However, these fast-acting antibody levels dropped rapidly after a few months. This caused epidemiologists to worry that we would need frequent booster injections to maintain immunity. However, scientists have now found that the virus also activates long-lived memory B cells in the bone marrow. These memory B cells also produce antibodies that can prevent a second infection. Even eight months after an initial infection, the memory B cells continue to produce anti-COVID-19 antibodies. So the vaccine could offer lifelong protection, according to a research summary published May 26 in the journal Nature.

In addition, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have now been shown to offer close to 100 percent protection against the virus for teenagers with minimal side effects such as fever, fatigue and a sore arm. This means parents can get their children fully vaccinated before school resumes in person in the fall, bringing the nation closer to the 80% “herd immunity” threshold.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have now asked the US Food and Drug Administration for full and regular approval of their vaccines. All available vaccines are currently approved for use in an emergency. They still had to pass all safety and efficacy tests in clinical studies, so they are not “experimental”. However, the FDA typically requires at least a year of follow-up data on people in the original clinical trial before granting regular approval. This ensures that there are no rare long-term side effects and that the vaccine provides permanent protection against infection. The vaccines have not proven themselves in the field, which confirms the safety and efficacy data from the clinical studies.

As soon as current vaccines move from “emergency use” to regular approval, schools, businesses, the military and others can request the vaccine. This could give another big boost to herd immunity protection.

Still, a declining but still significant number of people say they are unlikely to receive the vaccine. Currently, 52% of Americans have received at least one dose. However, according to a nationwide survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccination Monitor in early May, only 9% of adults who have not yet received the vaccination say they are definitely planning to vaccinate. If that number holds, and the same adults don’t vaccinate their children, the nation will not achieve the relative safety of herd immunity. Smaller outbreaks will continue, especially as new, more infectious strains enter the country from unvaccinated countries.

Fortunately, according to a survey by the Kaiser Foundation, resistance to the vaccine continues to slide. The percentage of adults who said they “definitely wouldn’t” get the vaccine fell to 20% in May, compared with 29% in March.

The percentage who said they “wait and see” remained at 15%, with a further 6% saying they would only get a chance if asked to do so by an employer.

Of parents, 33% said they would vaccinate their children immediately, 26% said they would wait and see how things go, 18% said they would only vaccinate their children if the school asked – and 23% said they would not vaccinate their child. About 11% of fathers said it was “extremely unlikely” to have their children vaccinated, and about 25% of mothers.

Another state study from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at the main reasons people say they don’t get the injection. The four main categories included:

• 8% – vigilant, waiting to see what happens next.

• 9% – concerned about the cost in money and time.

• 4% – Don’t trust the system to treat you fairly.

• 14% – COVID skeptics who do not believe the threat is there.

The study said the people who are hardest to convince are likely to be those who don’t believe the virus poses a threat and those who don’t trust the medical system.

Unfortunately for Arizona, the COVID skeptics make up a much larger proportion of the people who didn’t get the chance here. They are dominated by white republicans and people with certain religious beliefs. Arizona has a large proportion of these skeptics, along with North Dakota, Idaho, Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.

“Covid skeptics are at the end of the spectrum because they are the least likely to get vaccinated. The main obstacle for people in this group are their specific, ingrained beliefs about COVID-19. Everyone in this group believes in at least one conspiracy theory related to the pandemic, be it microchips being implanted with the COVID vaccine; COVID-19 has been exploited by the government to control people; or that the pandemic was caused by a group of people who are secretly manipulating world events, ”wrote Sema Sgaier, one of the study’s authors.

For example, the US is now investigating the theory that the virus originally escaped from a Chinese medical laboratory in Wuhan rather than a bats wildlife market. Neither theories are conclusively proven. However, the theory that a lab worker accidentally became infected with a modified coronavirus was first put forward by some medical experts and then promoted by then-President Trump. Some other researchers rejected this theory and the mainstream media cut it short. News that a lab worker had COVID-like symptoms at the start of the pandemic and China’s opposition to an open investigation has led the Biden administration to take the theory more seriously.

Arizona also has an unusually large proportion of the “cost anxious” not getting the vaccine. This group is concerned not only about paying for the shot, which is usually free, but also about being released from work. Mississippi has the most people in this category – 23% versus a national average of 9%. Other states with an above-average proportion of “fear of costs” are Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Utah, and Texas. All of these states have a higher percentage of the population without health insurance than the national average.

Arizona has fewer people in the other two hesitant vaccine categories – including the “system suspects” and the “wait and see” group.

The study suggests that given the large percentage of stubborn COVID skeptics, Arizona will struggle to achieve herd immunity.

However, we could also make progress with the “cost-anxious” by making the vaccine as widely and easily available as possible.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other issues for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach out to him at [email protected]

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