The rise of the Delta variant in the U.S. has led to outbreaks of COVID-19 across the country. But as more people get vaccinated, the death toll in the fourth wave of the pandemic may not spike as high as it did in previous surges, according to experts.
Increasing vaccination rates among Americans may result in a decoupling between infections and deaths — meaning that new cases might rise more steeply than fatalities.
This trend was evident across the pond: At the peak of the U.K.’s most recent spike in mid-July, the 7-day average of new daily infections was around 47,000 cases (approaching its 60,000 peak from January). But so far this month, the country has seen around 80 deaths per day.
“In the past with that level of infection, we would have seen over 1,000 deaths a day,” said Graham Medley, PhD, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Before vaccines, Medley said that the number of deaths was the clearest metric to assess the severity of the pandemic. But since the U.K. has fully vaccinated the majority of high-risk individuals — more than 90% of its oldest and most vulnerable populations, according to government data — “deaths are no longer the most obvious outcome of infection to the public.”