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Although the US fell a wee bit short of Joe Biden's goal of getting 70 percent of the adult population vaccinated with at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4 (we're still at 67.3 percent, with 58.5 percent of adults fully vaccinated), healthcare nonprofit The Commonwealth Fund notes that we've turned things around a hell of a lot since the beginning of the year:

The number of cases has fallen from more than 300,000 per day at the apex of the pandemic in January 2021 to less than 20,000 per day in mid-June.

There's still a lot of work to do, particularly because the Delta variant, which spreads more aggressively among unvaccinated people than the original virus did, has rapidly become the dominant form of the virus in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worse, the primary reason many states are falling short has nothing to do with the availability of vaccines, but is instead driven by disinformation in rightwing media. It's maddening.


That said, the Commonwealth Fund would like to remind us how much worse things could have been right now if the vaccines had not been rolled out as well as they were. So researchers did some data analysis based on what's known about the infectiousness of the original virus and the variants (Alpha, Gamma, and Delta) that have spread in the US so far, and modeled what the disease outcomes would look like in two "counterfactual scenarios," in comparison to where we actually were by the end of June 2001.

The first scenario modeled what would have happened if there had been no vaccination program at all, and the second, if the number of daily vaccinations had been half of how many shots actually went into arms. And holy crap, look at what would have happened had there been no vaccine at all:

The model predicts that with no vaccine at all, there would have been "approximately 279,000 additional deaths and up to 1.25 million additional hospitalizations" by the end of June 2021. And notice that great big peak in April and May:

If there had been no COVID-19 vaccination program, daily deaths from COVID-19 would have created a second wave (a "spring surge") — of nearly 4,500 deaths per day — potentially larger than the first wave of the year, which peaked at 4,000 deaths per day in January. Most of the additional deaths during the second 2021 wave (the shaded area of the exhibit here) would have occurred because of an increase and spread of the more transmissible Alpha variant.

Fortunately, the vaccines we have were all very effective against that variant, so instead we have that downward-sloping green line. Mind you, that red upward slope there could still be what states with low vaccination rates might be looking at if the Delta variant isn't brought under control.

The other scenario, in which the vaccine rollout only resulted in vaccination rates half of what we actually saw, would still have that second spring surge, but not nearly as bad:

In that scenario there would still have been roughly 121,000 additional deaths, and more than 450,000 additional hospitalizations. So instead of more than 600,000 deaths in the US, we would now be creeping up on three quarters of a million deaths.

This is where we should note right here that the Commonwealth Fund study assiduously avoids getting into politics. That's why we're here, after all. It really looks to us like that second scenario might just be what we'd be looking at if Donald Trump had been reelected. That thought occurred to Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum:

Trump did at least set up the rapid vaccine development program named for the really fast spaceships in Star Wars, so the no vaccine at all estimate wouldn't be in the cards. But based on the slow vaccine rollout at the end of his administration, and the man's overall indifference to the pandemic, we can definitely imagine that the vaccination rate under Trump would be only half of what we actually experienced.

Hell, it might even be worse than half, because Trump could just blame the lack of supply on state governors. Or leave it all to Jared. Or perhaps he would have seen to it that the vaccines went to red states instead of to parts of the country that didn't vote for him. He might have become so intent on punishing his enemies that the actual vaccination effort would have been the last thing on his mind, and the Delta variant would have led to vast outbreaks by now. One thing's for sure: Trump did a half-vaxxed job of everything.

But counterfactuals are hard. Maybe things would have unfolded roughly as they have. Had Trump somehow eked out an Electoral College win, he wouldn't have spent all of December and January trying to overturn the election. Maybe if he'd won, he'd have gotten the shots on live TV and urged all his followers to do the same, so he could brag about being the hero, and we'd have even higher vaccination rates than we do now. It doesn't seem all that likely, but perhaps.

But we can say for sure we're glad for the vaccines that mean we ended up with nearly 300,000 fewer deaths. And we're also fucking relieved to not be living in any timeline where Trump was still president.

[Commonwealth Fund / CNBC / PennLive]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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