Florida is setting new records for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. The highly contagious delta variant is spreading through the Sunshine State faster than ever seen before in the pandemic.
But there’s one Florida COVID-19 metric finally moving in the right direction: More people are getting vaccinated after a sharp decline.
More than 340,000 Floridians got their first dose of protection against the coronavirus in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the highest weekly total since mid-May, and marks the reversal of a four-month decline in vaccination rates around the state.
In the past month, daily vaccination rates in Florida have increased by over 50 percent to about 64,000 vaccinations per day. The number of residents getting their first shot has doubled to an average of nearly 49,000 per day.
However, vaccinations are still far below their peak in April, when well over 200,000 Floridians were being vaccinated every day.
The turnaround in vaccination rates does mark one potential silver lining of the current outbreak, said University of South Florida epidemiologist Edwin Michael.
“The funny thing about this pandemic is that we see this feedback loop,” he said. “When people are more protected and cases begin to drop, people relax their behavior, and then we see an uptick again. It’s an inverse relationship between cases and how people behave.”
Nearly 10.7 million Floridians have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for just under 50 percent of the total population.
The CDC recommended vaccinations for everyone 12 and older (and only approved them for those ages) Vaccinations have proved to be highly effective at preventing severe illness, even against the delta variant.
Two studies from Public Health England that have not been peer reviewed show how effective the Pfizer mRNA vaccine has been against the delta variant. After both doses, the Pfizer vaccine is 88 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness and 96 percent effective against hospitalization.
Early testing from Moderna has shown only a “modest reduction” in efficacy against the Delta variant of it’s two-part mRNA vaccine. And preliminary research indicates that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still 71 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and 95 percent effective in preventing death due to delta.
However, vaccinated individuals can still get infected and spread the virus. The CDC and public health experts recommend wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, especially in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” which currently includes all of Florida.
Florida’s rising vaccination rates mirrors a national trend. First-dose vaccinations increased by about 70 percent across the country in the past four weeks from about 220,000 doses per day to almost 430,000.
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Vaccination rates are still far below their peak in May, when the state was vaccinating over 200,000 people per day.
Even amid this resurgence in vaccinations, Florida is among only 10 states where first-time vaccinations doubled in the past four weeks. One out of every nine first-dose vaccinations was in Florida last week.
Vaccination rates are growing fastest among Florida’s youngest age cohort, ages 12 to 19. Nearly 170,000 young Floridians have been vaccinated in the past four weeks, pushing the vaccination rate among the age group from 31 to 41 percent.
The spike in vaccinations among school-age Floridians came just before schools reopened across the state. The rate of vaccinations among young Floridians is increasing, but it is still the least protected age cohort in the state. At the current rate of vaccination, 12 to 19 year-olds would not hit a 70 percent vaccination rate until mid-October.
The current uptick in vaccinations may be too late to quell the current surge in cases. Michael predicts that the current wave of infections will reach its peak at the end of August. Florida averaged more than 19,000 cases of COVID-19 a day from July 30 to Aug 5, according to the Department of Health, the state’s highest infection rate during the 17-month pandemic.
Single-dose formulations like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine take two weeks to become fully effective, and two-dose versions like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines take four to six weeks from the first shot to become fully effective.
That means that “vaccination is far too late to prevent the current wave,” Edwin said. “But they can stop the next one and they will stop the variants.”
For the next four weeks, Edwin suggests masking and social distancing in public spaces: “Even a 50 percent increase in masks and distancing will cool the coming wave of cases.”
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