With COVID cases in the country rising as the Delta variant spreads, the best thing political and public-health leaders can do is encourage the hesitant to get vaccinated. Yet many are instead undermining confidence in the shots, which have proven overwhelmingly effective against the new strain.
That’s the message sent by calling for — and in some cases instituting — a return to mask mandates, even for the vaxxed.
“Indoor mask use in NYC is falling — in delis, stores, subways, movie theaters etc. We need to reverse this trend,” tweeted Mark Levine (D-Manhattan), who chairs the City Council Health Committee. “It’s time to renew the indoor mask mandate, including for those who are vax’d.” He told The Post this week that he’ll lobby the state Health Department to do so.
Los Angeles County, the country’s most populous, is already back to requiring masks indoors. The American Academy of Pediatrics just called for universal masking in classrooms for anyone over 2 — including the vaccinated — and Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, quickly agreed, calling masking children and vaccinated teens and teachers “a reasonable thing to do.”
But it’s not reasonable — and neither is needlessly stoking fear and uncertainty, which undermines the economy’s recovery and the livelihoods that depend on it.
The official gloom boosts vaccine hesitancy, too. Why get jabbed if life is going back into lockdown — and if you’d still have to worry about every new strain, as politicians and public-health officials imply when they insist even the vaccinated must re-mask?
The panic is completely unwarranted. Yes, Delta is about 50 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, and it now accounts for more than 80 percent of cases here. But as White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted Monday, 99.5 percent of those being hospitalized for or dying from COVID are unvaccinated.
The vaccines almost eliminate the risk of severe illness and death from all variants. Public Health England found that Pfizer’s vaccine is 96 percent effective at preventing hospitalization due to the Delta variant. And the United Kingdom, where Delta surged after being first identified in India, has seen new cases dramatically drop in the last few days, from 54,674 on Saturday to 39,950 on Monday. In Israel, where about 60 percent of people are vaccinated, only 1.6 percent of COVID cases have become critically ill; it was 4 percent before vaccines were available.
Indeed, the data on Delta are “reassuring,” Drs. Leslie Bienen and Monica Gandhi wrote in The Wall Street Journal. Delta cases actually correlated with lower COVID hospitalization rates.
And calling for kids to mask up is ridiculous, Delta or no. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine prof Marty Makary and his research team analyzed childhood COVID cases and found “a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia.” He notes that an “asymptomatic child who tests positive after being injured in a bicycle accident would be counted” as a COVID hospitalization.
As Biden rightly notes, “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.” He should rein in Fauci and his other allies undermining vaccine confidence: 90 million eligible Americans still haven’t gotten a jab, and their lives may depend on it.