Want to end COVID-19 restrictions? It’s simple – just get vaccinated

WASHINGTON — The American media have taken notice of the “Freedom Convoy” protest that occupied downtown Ottawa for a third day on Monday, with outlets ranging from the New York Times to Fox News reporting on the Confederate-flag-and-swastika-waving, monument-desecrating rally that has shut down much of a city just as it loosens COVID-19 restrictions. Former President Donald Trump even gave the “truckers” (and the personal vehicle drivers who outnumber them) a shout-out at a weekend rally in Texas.

All this attention for a protest that is at least nominally about opposing vaccination requirements comes just as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released stunning numbers about just how effective vaccinations are at protecting people from the worst effects of COVID-19 , even in the age of Omicron. The numbers point to just how much people who share the opinion of the protesters are responsible for the ongoing toll of the pandemic – if everyone was vaccinated, COVID-19 restrictions could likely be a thing of the past.

In a Jan. 28 report, the CDC looked at cases from 25 states in the period late last year when the Delta variant was dominant and while Omicron was emergent. It found that the unvaccinated were significantly more likely to contract the illness, and dramatically more likely to die from it, while those who’d received a booster shot were significantly better protected.

Last October and November, the rate of new COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated was 348 per 100,000 people each week. Among those fully vaccinated, the rate dropped to 88 per 100,000; among those who’d also received a booster shot, it was only 25 per 100,000.

The death statistics are even more stark. Among the unvaccinated, there were 7.8 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 0.6 for those fully vaccinated and 0.1 for those who had been boosted.

Put another way, the unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than those who had two shots and a booster, and were 78 times more likely to die from it.

Another CDC study released the same day showed similar results for preventing hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

The CDC reports are the first to crunch real-world booster data from the US and they line up with earlier observations about the effectiveness of vaccines in the US, Canada and other countries.

Data from Ontario Public Health shows unvaccinated people over age 80 are upwards of 12 times more likely to die if they contract the Omicron variant. As a story by my colleagues Ed Tubb and Kenyon Wallace made clear, it’s hard to figure out exactly how many lives vaccinations had saved among those seniors, however, because the number of those who are unvaccinated is not precisely known.

That kind of information is necessary to gauge the effectiveness of vaccines. With high vaccination rates like those in Canada (especially among seniors), you see more cases among the vaccinated simply because almost everyone is vaccinated.

If 99 people who were in car crashes wore seatbelts and only one did not, then results showing three seatbelt users died in their crashes versus one death for the person who left theirs unbuckled would still indicate seatbelt use was likely highly effective.

A lot of the anti-vaccine misinformation in circulation leaves this factor out. For instance, a recent newsletter by a former New York Times reporter cited Ontario figures showing more new cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated people than among the unvaccinated. As USA Today pointed out, that claim ignored the fact that the vast majority of Ontario residents are vaccinated, which is why you’d expect that result even when vaccines are highly effective. It is not difficult to understand if you spend even a few moments thinking about it.

And yet, anti-vaccination sentiment stubbornly persists. In the United States, more than a third of people remain less than fully vaccinated, and only 26 per cent have received a booster shot, even though they have been widely and freely available for months.

There are fewer such people in Canada, but there are still lots – plenty of them were in Ottawa on the weekend, angrily demanding an end to any vaccination requirements and COVID-19 precautions.

A simple comparison of COVID-19 death rates in Canada and the US would seem to endorse the effectiveness of Canada’s approach, and of the more widespread embrace of vaccinations in Canada. Americans have been more than three times as likely to die of COVID-19 as Canadians; in the past week, the population-adjusted proportion of COVID-19 deaths in the US to those in Canada has even increased slightly.

It’s natural that the Ottawa protesters want an end to the ways the pandemic has changed our lives. Most of us do. An Angus Reid Poll reported Monday that 54 per cent of Canadians want all COVID-19 restrictions to end.

But here’s what’s frustrating: The data suggests that it is within their power to bring about the end of the pandemic – along with its life-threatening consequences and all of the lockdowns and mandates that governments have imposed to protect us. All they need to do is get vaccinated.


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