During the White House COVID-19 response team briefing on Thursday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said preliminary data from several states indicates that 99.5 percent of recent deaths from coronavirus are of individuals who were unvaccinated and could have been prevented with a vaccine. Walensky also said the rise in the number of cases due to the Delta variant is “troubling.”
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: On the one hand, we have seen the successes of our vaccination program over the last eight months, with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths far lower than the peaks we saw in January. And yet, on the other hand, we are starting to see some new and concerning trends. Simply put, in areas of low vaccination coverage, cases and hospitalizations are up.
Further, we are seeing some small clusters and larger outbreaks of COVID-19 in locations such as camps and community events where proper, hard-learned prevention strategies are not enforced and the virus is readily able to thrive. Meanwhile, the Delta variant is spreading rapidly throughout the country. This week, the Delta variant is estimated to be the most prevalent variant in the United States, representing over 50% of sequenced samples across the country, up from 26% from the week ending June 19.
And in some parts of the country, the percentage is even higher. For example, in parts of the Midwest and upper mountain states, CDCs early sequence data suggest the Delta variant accounts for approximately 80% of cases. Although we expected the Delta variant to become the dominant strain in the United States, this rapid rise is troubling. We know that the Delta variant has increased transmissibility. And it is currently surging in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates.
We also know that our authorized vaccines prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death from the Delta variant. And result– these results have been observed not just here in the United States but in other countries as well. Of course, widespread vaccination is what will truly turn the corner on this pandemic. Please know if you are not vaccinated, you remain susceptible, especially from the transmissible Delta variant, and are particularly at risk for severe illness and death.
I want to share with you my concerns about what we’re seeing across the country in areas of low vaccination coverage and in counties with increasing case rates. As shown on the left map in blue, there are 173 counties in the United States that have case rates of greater than or equal to 100 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. On the right side of this slide, shown in purple, are the counties in the US that have both vaccine coverage less than 40% and cases of greater than or equal to 100 per 100,000 people over the last several days.
Of the 173 counties with the highest case rates, the vast majority, 93%, have less than 40% vaccination of their residents. These counties are where more than nine million Americans live and work and are the locations in the country where we are seeing the increased hospitalizations and deaths among unvaccinated individuals. Many of these counties are also the same locations where the Delta variant represents the large majority of circulating virus.
Low vaccination rates in these counties, coupled with high case rates and lax mitigation policies that do not protect those who are unvaccinated from disease, will certainly, and sadly, lead to more unnecessary suffering, hospitalizations, and potentially death. Indeed, as I stated last week, 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.
Those deaths were preventable with a simple, safe shot. COVID-19 vaccines are free and available to everyone age 12 and up. Vaccinating– vaccination is our leading public health strategy to stop the Delta variant and bring case rates down in these counties. We are seeing that communities and counties that have high vaccine coverage and low case rates are getting back to normal. Turning the corner on this pandemic, getting back to normal, and stopping the Delta variant requires all of us to do our part and to get vaccinated.