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Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated Virginians account for virtually all new COVID-19 cases since December, data shows

A basket of syringes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine ready to be used at Richmond...
A basket of syringes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine ready to be used at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021.(Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 8:23 AM EDT
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Since late December, virtually all of Virginia’s new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been among residents who are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

The statistics parallel trends in neighboring states, including Maryland, which announced that unvaccinated residents made up all of its coronavirus deaths in June, The Washington Post reported. And experts say the data dramatically underlines how crucial vaccines are, even as officials scramble to convince more people to receive the shots.

“I mean, gosh, get vaccinated,” said Dr. Bill Petri, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia. “But it also shows we should continue to make big outreach efforts to get to these populations that, in many cases, have historically not received adequate medical care.”

From December 29 to June 25, 99.7 percent of new COVID-19 cases have occurred among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Virginians, according to VDH. Those residents made up 99.3 percent of hospitalizations and 99.6 percent of deaths over the same time period.

While all three metrics have dropped precipitously since late January, when Virginia was experiencing a record-breaking holiday surge, the state’s average number of new cases has crept upward over the last several weeks. Public health experts, including Petri, say it’s highly unlikely the state will face the same type of sustained rise it saw last winter when thousands were hospitalized every day with the disease.

But with the rise of highly contagious variants, including Delta — which now makes up more than 50 percent of new cases nationwide — officials are warning of “hyperlocal outbreaks” in areas with low vaccine uptake. Just over 70 percent of adult Virginians have received at least one dose, meeting a July 4 goal set by President Joe Biden. Still, wide disparities exist across the state.

In Fairfax County, just over 55 percent of the population is fully immunized, according to VDH. In other areas, that number is below 35 percent — including pockets of Southwest Virginia and several counties in Southside and Central Virginia.

“So when we get into wintertime, I think we’re going to see an uptick in cases,” Petri said. “Because we know this thing spreads best indoors.” While studies have shown that available vaccines are still highly effective against the Delta variant — especially the mRNA versions from Pfizer and Moderna — unvaccinated Virginians are much more at risk. That includes children under 12, who aren’t currently eligible to receive a shot.

The number of vaccines administered across the state has plummeted over the last two months, from a daily average of nearly 86,000 in early April to less than 12,000 as of July 4. As enthusiasm wanes, state and local health officials have pivoted to targeted outreach, offering doses at baseball games, public parks and mobile clinics in shopping center parking lots.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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