Inoculation still best way to fight latest surge

Among the latest talking points from those desiring to downplay the coronavirus pandemic is the mortality rate.

Indeed, more than 98 percent of Americans who have contracted COVID-19 have survived. That is a tribute to health care workers who have fought on the front lines against the disease since it arrived in the United States about 17 months ago.

But despite those encouraging numbers, it is absurd to suggest that they are an argument against receiving vaccines — or that the impact of the disease has been overstated. More than 617,000 U.S. deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since March 2020, which calls for some comparisons.

In 2019, the nation’s leading cause of death — heart disease — claimed 659,000 lives. Cancer, which ranked second on the list, accounted for 599,000 deaths. If vaccines known to be effective against heart disease or cancer were available, it is unlikely they would generate the opposition that has accompanied COVID vaccines. And it is unlikely that many people are callous enough to downplay the impact of heart disease or cancer in this country.

Still, any cogent discussion about coronavirus must go beyond the life-and-death numbers. The state Department of Health this week released details about people who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 from February to June of this year. For example, 887 adults ages 18-34 were hospitalized, and 98.5 percent of them had not been fully vaccinated. More than 1,500 people ages 35-49 were hospitalized, and 97.9 percent had not been fully vaccinated.

A surge of COVID cases has engulfed the nation, largely attributed to the Delta variant of the virus, which is highly transmissible. Now, other variants are starting to show up. And even with a high percentage of survivors, a surge of infections plays havoc with the health care system.

Last week, state officials reported that hospital occupancy was at the highest rate of 2021. And in states with less-stringent measures to prevent the disease, the situation is dire. Reports this week indicate the entire state of Arkansas had eight available ICU beds; some patients in Oklahoma have been sent to neighboring states; and an 11-month-old girl in Houston was airlifted 150 miles because no pediatric beds were available. As of Sunday, 1 in 4 hospital beds in Florida was occupied by a COVID patient.

Data show that a majority of those patients will recover. But many will suffer lingering symptoms from coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report these often include difficulty breathing, “brain fog,” heart palpitations, joint or muscle pain and changes in smell or taste. The Mayo Clinic reports: “Even young, otherwise healthy people can feel unwell for weeks to months after infection.”

The surest way to avoid long-haul COVID symptoms is to avoid contracting the disease entirely. Vaccines are highly effective, and experts say that those who have been vaccinated but still contract coronavirus are likely to have less severe symptoms and, therefore, unlikely to suffer from long-term symptoms.

In Clark County, 587 breakthrough infections have been reported among people who said they were fully vaccinated. Of those, five have died — a tragic number, yet a mortality rate significantly lower than among the unvaccinated.

Naysayers can attempt to downplay the threat of coronavirus or question the effectiveness of vaccines. But the numbers make it clear that inoculations are essential to tamping down the virus.