Opinion | Covid Is Now a Crisis for the Unvaccinated

By Aaron E. Carroll

Dr. Carroll is the chief health officer for Indiana University. He’s also a writer who focuses on health research and policy.

Case counts are rising, some hospitals are filling up, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is again recommending universal masking in areas where cases are surging. But to suggest that Covid-19 is an escalating emergency in the United States is not quite right. The truth is that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are experiencing two very different pandemics right now. If we don’t confront that, the nation can’t address either appropriately.

The C.D.C.’s announcement will lead many to believe that the pandemic is getting worse. But if you and most of the people in your area are vaccinated, things are substantially better than they used to be. Hospitals are relatively clear of Covid-19. Few deaths are occurring. People may still be worried, and some may be masking, but much of their panic is that the stuffy nose they woke up with may be Covid-19.

Sometimes it is. As has always been the case, breakthrough infections of Covid-19 remain possible. Such reports have become more frequent. Because the vaccines are not 100 percent effective, some vaccinated people will get infected, some will get sick, and in rare cases, some may even be hospitalized. The success of the vaccines has long been predicated on preventing severe illness, which they do, rather than on preventing any infection.

If the vast majority of vaccinated people who get Covid-19 recover with no real issues, how much should we worry?

There are four other endemic coronaviruses in circulation. They all cause colds. It would be a major victory if we could relegate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, to this group. For the vaccinated, right now, that victory has largely been achieved.

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