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The Washington Post has just unwittingly delivered some powerful blows to the widespread belief (propagated most notably by President Biden) that America’s latest CCP Virus-related woes are overwhelmingly a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” And all of them came in a single article focusing tightly on the recent surge of the virus in Michigan.

The first: The article’s stage-setting observation that “At least two dozen states have seen cases rise at least 5 percent in the past two weeks, with Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire and North Dakota each recording per capita jumps of more than 60 percent. Some highly vaccinated states, including Vermont and Massachusetts, were also seeing steep rises in cases.”

As I’ve said before, case numbers are about the worst available indicator of the pandemic’s severity, because of huge complications like its heavy dependence on testing, and the related massive numbers of asymptomatic infections, which of course hold down the numbers of test-takers. But they’re constantly touted by the public health establishment and other vaccine zealots, so they’re fair game.

And what’s instructive about that Post sentence is not only its mention of states like Vermont and Massachusetts experiencing “steep rises in case” (despite full vaccination rates of 73 percent and 71 percnt, respectively, according to the paper’s own very convenient CCP Virus tracker), but the fact that Minnesota (62 percent), New Hampshire (65 percent), and New Mexico (63 percent) also boast full vaccination rates notably higher than the national U.S. average of 59 percent.

The second blow against the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” meme: The Post‘s report that in Michigan itself, “The unvaccinated made up about three-quarters of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the 30 days ending Nov. 5, according to the state health department.”

In other words, fully a quarter of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths (the latter two metrics being far better gauges of CCP Virus severity) have stemmed from vaccinated Michiganders. These figures indicate that breakthrough cases and really bad breakthrough cases are a lot more common than the nation has been told (especially given my previous point that Americans and their government have literally no idea of the share of their unvaccinated compatriots get sick enough from the virus to be hospitalized and die – as opposed to their absolute numbers – because of the testing/asymptomatic spread complications.)

A third blow against the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” narrative comes from the data for the Michigan counties depicted by the Post as being especially hard hit by mounting hospitalizations – which are a good leading indicator of mortality, and which of course threaten the health care system’s ability to provide its vital services against the full range of medical problems Americans suffer.

According to reporters Brittany Shammas and Paulina Firozi, one of the state’s regions where the hospitalization situation is especially dire is Grand Rapids. But Kent County, where the city is located, has one of Michigan’s higher vaccination rates – 57 percent.

Moreover, although the article adds that “A health-care coalition representing 13 counties in West Michigan [including Kent] warned last week that “hospitals and EMS systems were operating at extremely high capacity, describing the situation as being at ‘a tipping point,’ a look at these localities shows that vaccination rates look like pretty unimportant contributors.

Here are the relevant recent hospitalization statistics for these counties as of this past Friday. The left column shows the vaccination rates for their entire populations, the middle column the percentage change in daily new hospital admissions over the previous week, and the right column the seven-day change in absolute numbers of new admissions during that latest week-long period. (The county-specific vaccination rates come from The New York Times vaccine tracker feature and the hospitalization figures come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.)

Clare:               44 percent           40.00 percent         7

Ionia:                44 percent         -20.83 percent       19

Isabella:            42 percent          42.86 percent       10

Kent:                57 percent          20.15 percent     328

Lake:                55 percent                  n/a                  0

Mason:             57 percent          18.18 percent       13

Mecosta:          39 percent         -12.00 percent       22

Montcalm:       39 percent         -35.09 percent       37

Muskegon:      51 percent           44.19 percent       62

Newaygo:        42 percent           40.00 percent      21

Oceana:           51 percent                   n/a                 2

Osceola:          40 percent         100.00 percent        2

Ottawa:           53 percent             7.69 percent      70

The anomalies should be apparent right away. There’s Kent County’s odd combination of high vaccination rates and strong (but not super strong) hospitalization increases. There are the identical and much lower vaccination rates of Clare and Ionia counties – and hospitalization rates going in the opposite direction, and dramatically so. There’s the equally strange pair of Mecosta and Montcalm counties, with their identical and really low vaccination rates, and their significantly falling hospitalization rates.

Anomalies like this can often be explained by differing demographic characteristics (e.g., more and more densely populated areas are typically worse virus hot spots). That’s one reason why it’s foolish to support a one-size-fits-all vaccination policy – let alone one that imposes major penalties on the unvaccinated. But even population doesn’t explain many of the all-over-the-place results for these mainly rural, thinly populated Michigan counties. (Michigan population-by-county data come from here, and the population density statistics from here.) 

For example, Kent is by far the most populous of the 13 counties, and by far the most population-dense – which surely accounts for much of its hospitalization increase. At the same time, its hospitalization situation proportionately is much worse than the next most populous county (Ottawa – which is also next door). 

Moreover, although Montcalm and Mecosta, as noted above, have identical (and very low) vaccination rates, the former is somewhat more densely populated than the former, but its hospitalization rate is falling more than three times faster.

And as always, very small absolute numbers can skew the percentage changes. Thus Osceola has the second smallest population of the 13, and its population density is one of the lowest – as is its vaccination rate. New hospitalizations have doubled in percentage terms over that last data week. But in absolute terms that means they’ve risen from one to two.

There’s still another way, though, that the Post piece — more wittingly — debunks the cookie-cutter approach to vaccinations, and that’s in the list of states, whatever their vaccination rates, where cases are up the most lately.  Except for New Mexico, they’re all in the upper Midwest and New England, and guess what happens in those regions at this time of year? Yes, it gets cold. And generally colder sooner than in other parts of the country.  Weather also is why, as the article reports, “previous southern state hot spots, like Florida and Texas, saw marked declines in cases.” 

The real message of the article, therefore, is that the CCP Virus, like most respiratory diseases, is a generally seasonal phenomenon, and where and when it’s not seasonal (as in Florida this summer), it comes (and goes) in waves regardless of changes in public policy. As a result, as has been clear once the first wave passed last year, the most public officials can do is concentrate on protecting the most vulnerable, keep the economy and broader society largely open for the rest (in order to minimize the collateral damage from sweeping lockdowns, school closings, stay-at-home orders, and other indiscriminate responses), and count on immunity from whatever source (vaccines as well as natural immunity) to become widespread enough to turn it into something like a bad flu.