New figures from Britain raise bright red flags about the direction of Covid in wealthy countries that used mRNA and DNA shots to attempt to defeat the coronavirus last year.
Hospitalizations and deaths remain stubbornly high and overwhelmingly occur in vaccinated people. In February, 90 percent of the 1,000 Britons who died each week of Covid were vaccinated.
New infections are not only far higher than they were before the Omicron variant emerged, they are rising again after a brief fall in February. And even boosters appear to offer no protection against hospitalizations in younger people.
British data are crucial both because Britain vaccinated and boosted early and because its datasets are far more complete and less politicized than those in the United States.
Day by day, week by week, the figures are becoming more worrisome. They hint that mRNA and DNA shots may have slowed if not completely halted the natural progression to herd immunity that occurred in earlier respiratory virus epidemics.
In fact, Britain now reports 99 percent of adults have antibodies to Covid, mostly as the result of vaccination. That level is far higher than epidemiologists believed would be necessary to support herd immunity. Yet Covid infections, hospitalizations, and deaths continue unabated. Almost 12,000 Britons are now hospitalized with Covid, more than at this time last year.
The most stunning chart is this one. Each week the British government releases a “surveillance report” which includes Covid deaths by vaccine status.
In the four weeks ending February 27, 397 unvaccinated Britons died of Covid, compared to 3,512 who were vaccinated. Using a broader definition, which may include more incidental deaths unrelated to Covid infections, the numbers are even worse, with 5,871 vaccinated people dying compared to 570 unvaccinated. (The United States does not publicly provide this data; it is not even clear American public health authorities collect it comprehensively.)
The report also shows for the first time that adults under 50 are now just as likely to be hospitalized for Covid whether they are boosted or unvaccinated. The report does not provide a similar hospitalization estimate for people who were vaccinated but unboosted, but based on the raw numbers it does provide, those rates are the highest of all.
Meanwhile, new Covid infections have nearly doubled in Britain in the last two weeks, and now top 60,000 a day. British media outlets have connected the rise to Britain’s “freedom day” on Feb. 24, which marked the legal end of Covid restrictions.
But Britain had already been moving toward normality throughout February, and cases were falling sharply. It is not clear that the legal end to restrictions made much difference behaviorally.
Britain is not alone.
Though elite media outlets have sharply deemphasized reporting on Covid, the epidemic continues unabated in advanced countries. In Europe and the United States, overall death and hospitalization rates remain high as the epidemic enters its third spring. Meanwhile, in South Korea and Japan, which largely avoided serious problems before mRNA vaccinations and the Omicron variant, infections are soaring and deaths following.
In contrast, many poorer countries that used older “inactivated virus” vaccines, or have low overall vaccination rates, have seen their coronavirus epidemics progress in a more traditional pattern.
Infections have risen and then fallen rapidly in distinct seasonal waves. Omicron has not caused off-the-charts spikes in new infections - probably because previous immunity from natural infection is far broader and more valuable against Omicron than vaccine-generated protection.
Here’s India, for example:
India no doubt undertests for Covid cases compared to Western countries, but the pattern is clear. Meanwhile, with a population one-twentieth as large, Britain now has more reported Covid deaths, more than 10 times as many infections, and shows no signs of emerging from its epidemic.
When the mRNA jabs began to become available in December 2020, vaccine advocates predicted that poor countries that lacked access to them would face the misery of unceasing Covid epidemics, while wealthy nations would emerge quickly.
Fifteen months later, the reverse seems to be the case.