Some Countries with The Highest Vaccination Rates Are Facing A Surge In Covid Deaths And Infections–Experts Say Complacency Is Partly To Blame
Robert Hart: Forbes Magazine May 29 2021
Some countries with the world’s highest vaccination rates are also battling devastating surges of Covid-19 and the highest death tolls, a worrying trend that has left experts and officials wondering whether successful inoculation drives have lulled governments into easing restrictions too soon and the public into a false sense of security.
Uruguay has endured the highest Covid-19 death rate in the world per capita for several weeks, despite having one of the world’s most successful inoculation drives, a common situation in a number of other highly vaccinated countries like Bahrain and the Maldives.
Uruguay, a small country of around 3.5 million people, recorded an average of 55 deaths a day over the last week, approximately 1.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants according to data compiled by the New York Times, a figure that has remained roughly the same since cases surged in April.
Controlling for population, Bahrain (0.9 deaths per 100,000 people) and the Maldives (1) have similarly grim metrics and have reported far greater death rates than countries like the U.S. (0.15) and India (0.29) for a large part of May.
Other countries like Chile and the Seychelles rank among the worst Covid infection surges in the world, though each have higher vaccination levels than the U.S., with experts warning that lifting restrictions too early may have made the public unduly complacent.
Dr. Jude Gedeon, public health commissioner of the Seychelles, told a local paper the outbreak was partially fueled by the resumption of economic activity and “complacency” over public health measures like mask wearing and social distancing, a sentiment echoed to Reuters by Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who said the country had lifted restrictions too soon.
Uruguay’s approach to the pandemic, which involved as few restrictions as possible, has also engendered a sense of complacency, AFP report, and the country is in a similar situation to Argentina where, despite strict restrictions in the country, many are flouting guidelines.
In the U.S., as in many wealthy countries, vaccines are seen as an exit strategy from the economic and social restrictions of the pandemic. As vaccination rates rise in the U.S., experts and officials have urged people not to become complacent and for officials not to remove restrictions too soon for fear of a resurgent wave of the disease. Changes to CDC guidance allowing vaccinated people to forgo facemasks swiftly led a slate of states to rescind mask mandates—some have even banned local officials from putting their own in place—leading many to question whether a weakening of the policies is wise considering a slowing vaccination rate and persistent levels of hesitancy that could prevent the coverage needed to stop transmission.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
The relaxation of restrictions is just one variable contributing towards an outbreak. New variants could drive infections—Uruguay’s outbreak is partly fueled by the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil. The efficacy of the vaccines used is also a pertinent worry, with a number of highly vaccinated countries having made heavy use of Chinese vaccines.
50%. Of the world’s most vaccinated countries mentioned in this story, all have at least this proportion of their population partially vaccinated against Covid-19. Data is available for Bahrain (53%), Chile (55%), the Maldives (57%), the Seychelles (72%) and Uruguay (50%). According to the CDC, the U.S. has a similar level of partially vaccinated people to Uruguay (50%), though a much higher proportion of fully vaccinated people (40% against Uruguay’s 29%).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Bahrain’s health ministry undersecretary Waleed Al Manea attributed the country’s surge in cases to more testing and the large gatherings associated with the holy month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr celebration. However, Bahrain, alongside the nearby UAE, is already offering booster shots for the heavily used Sinopharm vaccine (which already requires two doses), amplifying worries it may not be as effective as others on the market at preventing the disease. A third of Seychellois cases are among vaccinated individuals, the country’s health ministry revealed in mid May and the majority of vaccines given were also the Sinopharm vaccine. The WHO said it would review cases from the archipelago in light of this.
Polling in the U.S. indicates unvaccinated people are more likely to be comfortable engaging in everyday activities than their vaccinated compatriots, a potential issue for the states relaxing pandemic restrictions based on high vaccination rates.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.