If a picture can paint a thousand words then a graph can display a thousand numbers.
We are possibly in our last lockdown. And we seem to pretty much agree that, once we are vaccinated, we are going to have to live with Covid as other countries are already doing. But what will living with Covid look like?
We could pick any of these other countries to illustrate but the UK is a probably the most telling example.
The UK once was the go-to nation for vaccination. For much of this year it has recorded the highest vaccination rates on the globe, only recently overtaken by UAE (92 per cent), Portugal (88 per cent), Malta, Spain, Denmark, Canada and Ireland.
So what does the UK data show?
In the UK, the numbers of confirmed new Covid cases per week from November 1, 2020 to the present have come in waves, with cases peaking around 400,000 per week in January 2021.
A peak of 300,000 around July 15 reflected the new Delta strain and coincided also with the football EURO Cup. After that, case numbers started to fall and this led Boris Johnson to relax restrictions on Freedom Day, July 19. The impact of this is now all too evident.
The UK been rising steadily since, with current new cases around a quarter of a million weekly.
In the graph, the red curve shows the fraction of those with at least one vaccination, currently nudging just above 71 per cent but actually very flat now. Will they ever get much further? Do antivaxxers form the bulk of the remaining unvaccinated? One would want to see a much higher proportion within the next few months.
What is clear, though, is that this relatively high rate of vaccination has not noticeably impeded the growth of new numbers of the Delta strain. Free movement takes a toll.
Plainly, the vaccine does not guarantee immunity.
Where vaccination spectacularly succeeds is on mortality rates shown by the blue curve. I have taken the weekly number of Covid-related deaths and divided by the weekly number of new cases two weeks earlier. This is to allow for the time lapse before symptoms become fatal and it allows a running record of mortality over time. This ratio is plotted as a percentage by the blue curve.
Evidently the death rate fluctuated between 2-3 per cent until mid-February this year then plummeted, hand in hand with vaccination. As vaccination rises the death rate nosedives. It is now hovering around 0.2 to 0.3 per cent – a 10-fold reduction.
The same effect can be seen in the data for all other Western countries: Germany, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Japan…What is the reason for this sudden fall? Is Delta Covid less aggressive? Multiple studies show the very opposite. The harrowing scenes of countless funeral pyres in India, where the Delta variant originated, attest to that.
The answer is, without doubt, vaccination. As the vaccine kicks in so mortality tumbles and many of the remaining deaths are likely amongst the unvaccinated.
Anti-vaccine campaigns in social media would have us believe the vaccine is not
effective, is unproven, unsafe and an instrument of social control - that Covid-19 is just a mild flu-like illness where reported deaths are largely due to other "morbidities".
These beliefs present a civic risk to our only long-term viable response to Covid-19, comprehensive vaccination.
The UK's stalling vaccination numbers reflect the insidious strength of this movement. These postings are full of errors, deception and selectivity in the guise of science.
The vaccine is effective and crucially, our graph debunks the antivaxxers' claim that deaths attributed to Covid are due to other illnesses. If they were right, then the number of Covid deaths would not have suddenly nose-dived everywhere with vaccination.
Denmark (75 per cent vaccinated) has seen Covid deaths fall to 0.05 per cent. Germany (65 per cent ) has tumbled from multiple highs of 3.5 per cent to a current value of 0.23 per cent mortality.
Importantly, the data also allows an estimate of the current number of saved lives each day due to the vaccine. UK: 846; Japan: 274; Spain: 286 and Germany: 228.
With comprehensive vaccination, we can open up and live with Covid. But we'll see case numbers rise dramatically. Some who have been vaccinated will still catch the virus – they won't die, but they will be infectious and therefore pose a risk to the unvaccinated.
Portugal has vaccinated 88 per cent of its population but it currently has 33,000 active infections with around 1000 new cases every day.
If our vaccination stalls at around 80 per cent then most of the remaining unvaccinated 20 per cent will inevitably catch Covid at some time. They are sitting ducks. Even at a conservative death rate of 1 per cent amongst these, that means 8000 unnecessary deaths over time.
There is a cost to freedom. There always has been. Please, get vaccinated.
• Dr Jeff Tallon is a physicist.
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