US senior health official warns of ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’

About 97% of people entering US hospitals with Covid-19 are unvaccinated

One of the US's top healthcare officials has warned of a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" as parts of the United States experience a surge in Covid-19 infection rates, fuelled by the Delta variant.

"We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well," said Rochelle Walensky, head of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at a press briefing on Friday. "This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

Ms Walensky said 33,000 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Thursday alone, while the seven-day average was now about 26,300 cases per day – a 70 per cent rise from the prior seven-day average. The daily death rate had increased by about 26 per cent over the past week to an average of 211.

She warned of “patterns of local outbreaks” driven by community transmission in some parts of the country where people were not vaccinated, adding that 97 per cent of people entering hospital with Covid-19 are unvaccinated.


“The good news is that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe Covid, hospitalisation and death, and are even protected against the known variants – including the Delta variant – circulating in the country. If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk. And our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”

CDC data shows that Missouri, Nevada, Arkansas and Florida are among the states experiencing the highest rises in cases, though Ms Walensky welcomed the fact that vaccination rates were increasing in those states. Florida alone accounted for one in five new coronavirus infections in the country over the past week.

LA masks up

Los Angeles county – one of the most populous in the country – reintroduced a mask mandate even for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, in response to rising Covid numbers.

In New York, a Yankees baseball game was postponed this week after some members of the team – including three who were fully vaccinated, according to officials – tested positive for Covid-19.

The highly infectious Delta variant, which was first identified in India, is now believed to account for about 50 per cent of Covid cases in the United States

Separately, US president Joe Biden said he would announce a decision on America's travel ban on Europe in the coming days, following his meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House. Since March 2020 the US has prohibited entry to most travellers who have been in Europe in the previous 14 days, even as residents from most other countries are allowed entry.

Dr Merkel said she had raised the issue with the US president during their bilateral meeting on Thursday, but she noted that the emergence of the Delta variant could complicate matters.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau also suggested that Canada may open its borders to fully vaccinated travellers in September.

Speaking at the White House press briefing on Friday, press secretary Jen Psaki said China and Russia were pushing anti-vaccine information through social media channels, according to the state department.

“We’re making sure social media platforms are aware of the false narratives dangerous to public health,” she said.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent