Viewpoint: Critical juncture — ‘Situation getting enormously better in growing vaccinated population, while growing worse in the unvaccinated group’

Unvaccinated people are rolling the dice as COVID variants get increasingly more transmissible and deadly. Credit: CSA Images/Designer 29/Getty Images/Katie Martin/The Atlantic
Unvaccinated people are rolling the dice as COVID variants get increasingly more transmissible and deadly. Credit: CSA Images/Designer 29/Getty Images/Katie Martin/The Atlantic

Life has become even riskier for unvaccinated people, particularly those who have never had covid-19. 

While treatments for covid-19 have improved somewhat since early 2020, the chances of hospitalization and death after a covid infection have not gone down much.

But while humans haven’t evolved, the virus surely has. The B.1.1.7 variant, first reported in Britain, is now the most prevalent form of the virus in the United States. This variant is far better at its job than the original coronavirus in two crucial ways: It’s about 50 percent more transmissible and, for someone who catches it, up to 60 percent more likely to be serious.

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Then there’s the matter of human behavior: As more of the population is vaccinated, case rates, hospitalizations and deaths are likely to fall.

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Seeing these numbers, unvaccinated people might well conclude that things have become safer and let down their guard.

The problem is that the aggregate numbers — even if they show down-trending test positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths — may be masking an important duality. The situation may be getting enormously better in the growing vaccinated population, while at the same time growing somewhat worse in the unvaccinated group. 

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