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Alachua County’s higher vaccination rate has not led to lower case rates

ANALYSIS

BY LEN CABRERA

Many readers of Alachua County’s Facebook page have noted the tendency to use data only when it supports their desire to get people to wear masks and get vaccinated. (Readers have also noted that Alachua County no longer permits people to comment on the posts, but that’s a topic for another day.)

On September 17, 2021, the County posted data from a single week to praise its policies and the residents of Alachua County: “Our Masking Order and vaccination rate are what differentiate us from our neighboring counties. Have your efforts made a difference? The answer to that is a resounding yes! See the chart below.” The data in the chart came from the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report:

City and county commissioners continue to wear masks and require masks on their employees–and the County requires masks for citizens attending meetings in-person–and they strongly encourage both employees and citizens (with cash incentives) to get vaccinated, but the data now clearly show that Alachua County has much higher case rates than the surrounding counties, all of which have lower vaccination rates. In fact, Alachua County had the third-highest cases per 100,000 population in the state last week, behind only Miami-Dade and Broward.

Of all the surrounding counties, Alachua County has had more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population each week for the last six weeks and in 8 of the 10 weeks since the state changed its vaccination reporting from the percentage of those 12 and older to the percentage of those 5 and older who are vaccinated (week ending November 11, 2021).

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Looking at Alachua and the surrounding counties, there is a high positive correlation between the vaccination rates and the number of new cases in the week ending January 13 (that number will likely be at or near the peak for this wave, but it is possible that the surrounding counties will peak later and catch up in subsequent weeks, but as you can see above, their slope is not as steep as Alachua’s). The high correlation (0.81) does not hold for the entire state, but it has held fairly steady for Alachua and the surrounding counties during the Omicron surge of the last four weeks (0.79-0.83). Prior to the week ending December 23 (when the wave really started increasing), the correlation was much lower (< 0.54). 

Despite all the pressure to impose vaccine mandates, the data clearly show that vaccination rates have not prevented COVID-19 transmission during the current wave; in fact, the positive correlation indicates that increased vaccination rates may have led to increased transmission for Omicron.

Those who pay attention have known the vaccine was not effective in preventing transmission since early August 2021, when CDC Director Rochelle Walensky admitted on CNN that fully-vaccinated people can transmit SARS-CoV-2. That’s quite a change from December 2020, when the CDC stated that the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing symptomatic spread. As late as March, Walensky told MSNBC that “vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick, and that it’s not just in the clinical trials, but also in real-world data.”

It’s not surprising that our local officials continue to refer to “The ScienceTM” while ignoring the data when making their COVID-19 pronouncements. As demonstrated in this August 2021 column, none of the non-pharmaceutical interventions mattered, and now it’s becoming apparent that the vaccines also do not stop the spread of COVID-19. While many public health experts continue to reassure people that the vaccines protect against severe illness and death, that leads inevitably to the conclusion that the choice to be vaccinated is a personal decision, not a societal one.

The height of the Omicron wave everywhere, even in highly-vaccinated states with mask mandates, shatters the narrative that we can stop a respiratory virus with good behavior and demonstrates that the COVID-19 mandates are about politics and control, not safety and health.

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