A scary graph

December 14, 2021 By Alan Salzberg

The graph below, which shows the progression of Covid as measured by number of deaths, shows the first 100,000 deaths took 89 days, followed by 6 more intervals at 200K, 300K, etc).  Now we are about to hit 800K.

What scares me about this graph is that the progression from 100 to 200K, in the summer of 2020, took about 4 months, and the progression from 600 to 700K in summer 2021, took about the same time, despite high levels of vaccination.  Similarly, the progression from 200-300K in the fall of 2020 took about the same 3 months as the progression from 700-800K in the later fall and early winter of this year.  

We know vaccinated people are dying at much lower rates, and we also know that people with prior infections are dying at much lower rates (there is strong evidence now that getting infected provides stronger protection  than vaccination (but both is even better): see, for example this article).  What this means is that the naive (no vaccine and no prior infection) are experiencing an outbreak that has been much more severe in the last 6 months than the outbreak was in the final 6 months of 2020 (when we were all unvaccinated).  What's more, this is all Delta--Omicron is not here yet in significant numbers.  As more people gain immunity through sickness and vaccination, we know death rates will eventually fall, but there is no sign of that yet.  

Instead, across the country, hospitalizations and deaths are rising, in some rare cases to all-time highs.  In particular, we are seeing about 7,500 new Covid hospital admissions daily (see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html ).  This is around half the what it was this time last winter, but this still spells a nasty few weeks.  If Omicron rears its head sooner than first expected, say, early January, then it could be even nastier -- we could have explosive growth in hospitalizations, of the like we have not seen since last winter.

Good news?  There is some.  First, if you are vaccinated (and esp. if you recently got a booster) or have already gotten Covid, you are very unlikely to get seriously ill.  The vaccines overall continue to be about 95% effective against hospitalizations (see, for example: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-breakthrough-data, which has tracked this for months with barely any movement from 95% effectiveness).  There is every reason to believe, and no evidence to the contrary, that vaccines will be highly effective against serious illness for the Omicron variant, so that should not be a concern based on severity (infectiousness is quite another matter-- for a later post, perhaps).  Second, very soon, probably in March, a pill will be available to those who get Covid that further reduces risks by a factor of 10 or more.  Third, we will, eventually, get to the point where such a high number of people have been vaccinated or infected, and effective treatments are so widely available, that Covid becomes CoLDvid (or fluvid).  We are basically at that point among vaccinated and people with prior infections, and soon there won't be any other people.