Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The senior vaccination gap is making the Delta wave deadlier.

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

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Credit…New York Times

Gov. David Ige of Hawaii asked tourists to stay away as virus rates surge.

The Philippines’ largest public hospital stopped accepting E.R. patients.

Indonesia is easing restrictions gradually as cases fall.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

Unvaccinated seniors drive Delta deaths

The U.S. has a far higher share of older adults without full vaccine protection than many other wealthy countries, and it has made the Delta wave deadlier.

Younger, unvaccinated adults are making up an increasing share of new hospital visits, but a vast majority of people dying from Covid-19 are older and unvaccinated. In many counties, especially in the South and the Mountain West, seniors without full vaccination make up more than 10 percent of the total population.

By contrast, unvaccinated seniors in Britain are relatively rare.

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Even London, which has higher rates of vaccine hesitancy among older adults than the rest of Britain, is far ahead of most of the U.S. in its vaccination rates.

That discrepancy may help explain why the Delta wave has led to a higher rate of deaths, public health experts say. Although cases surged in both countries, Britain had proportionally fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

Vaccine hesitancy is not unique to the U.S., but it is more widespread and forceful in the country than in Europe, and it breaks down more clearly along political lines. State and local governments have also been less willing than European leaders to use mandates to pressure residents to be vaccinated.

Signing up older Americans for vaccines is a struggle: Those who really wanted a vaccine have already gotten it. Many holdouts are resistant to immunization because of their politics and personal beliefs, or those of their friends and family.

“We have really tried to get them vaccinated,” said Molly Howell, the immunization director for the North Dakota Department of Health, where health officials have sent letters to every unvaccinated senior in the state. “There just seems to be a lack of trust in public health and government, and even a lack of trust of medical professionals.”

Confused by Covid science? It’s not just you.

Sometimes it seems as if scientific understanding of the coronavirus changes by the hour.

The virus was thought to spread only by close contact or on contaminated surfaces, then it turned out to be airborne. Americans don’t need to wear masks. Wait, they do. Booster shots may not be necessary, at least not for a long time — until they are strongly recommended.

We’re living with science as it unfolds in real time, our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reported this week. The process has always been fluid and unpredictable. But rarely has it moved at this speed, and rarely has it been so crucial to pay close attention.

For some frustrated Americans, public health officials have seemed at times to be flip-flopping — or even to be intentionally misleading the country.

Consider mask guidance from the C.D.C. In the early weeks and months of the pandemic, officials said that masks were unnecessary for the general public, in part to preserve supplies for frontline workers, as the Times Opinion columnist Zeynep Tufekci noted. Months later, the agency reversed its advice.

Then, in May 2020, the agency said that vaccinated people could ditch their masks, but did not sufficiently emphasize that masks might be needed again. Now, with a new surge in infections, they are.

One central problem, Apoorva said, is the relatively low level of scientific literacy in the U.S. “We also don’t really talk about health as a public good, as a community goal,” she added. “It’s not like deciding to exercise or deciding to eat well, which are very individual activities. Infectious disease is, by its definition, something that connects people.”

“This wouldn’t be happening if public health authorities had done a good job of educating the public from the start,” she said. “You can’t really come into a pandemic not ever having talked about these things before and expect people to understand everything and get on board.”

Doctors and researchers have worked with unrelenting speed and focus to fight the pandemic. But they have often fallen short in terms of communicating the shifting landscape to their fellow citizens.

“Scientists don’t really understand what people know or don’t know, so they leave out key pieces of information that people need to connect the dots,” Apoorva said. “In that knowledge gap, somebody else can come in and fill it with a bunch of misinformation.”

Vaccine rollout

The U.S. may not approve vaccines for children until the end of the year, the director of the N.I.H. told NPR.

Israel made booster shots available to everyone over 30, The Jerusalem Post reports.

Kathy Hochul, the newly sworn-in governor of New York, said she wanted to institute vaccine-or-test mandates for educators, and ordered the state health department to institute a universal mask mandate in schools.

Approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could upend bans on vaccine mandates in states like Texas.

An updated C.D.C. study shows a decline of vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant, Stat News reports.

In Los Angeles County, an unvaccinated person is up to 25 times as likely to be hospitalized with Covid, according to new state data.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

What else we’re following

The C.D.C. added several countries to a list that travelers should avoid.

The Washington Post reports that a group of mothers are gently winning over vaccine skeptics on Facebook.

The chief scientist of the W.H.O. said India might be entering “some kind of stage of endemicity,” during which there is a low or moderate level of transmission and a population learns to live with a virus, India Today reports.

Outbreaks in Asian countries with low vaccination rates are disrupting global supply chains, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A majority of Americans support mask and vaccine mandates for schools, according to a new poll from The Associated Press.

What you’re doing

It’s me again, the tired occupational epidemiologist. Sixteen months into this pandemic and I seem to have answered all manner of questions about the virus for my clients. The questions often contain scary words like risk, transmission, mitigation or liability. On reflection, the most meaningful question I’ve gotten during this pandemic, likely the only question that matters, came from a university president, a Jesuit priest responsible for many. He asked me, “Shannon, what’s the most loving thing we can do for our community?” The answer to this question has changed throughout the pandemic, but for now, without question, the most loving thing we can do for each other is to get vaccinated. — Shannon Magari, Syracuse, N.Y.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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