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Data: Higher number of cases, significantly fewer deaths is the story of the current wave of COVID-19 across US & Europe

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US, UK, and some of the European countries are some of the worst affected by COVID-19 in 2020. However, with high vaccination rates, though these countries are witnessing an increase in the number of cases, there are significantly fewer deaths. 

Data from across the world indicate another round of increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases. This increase in the number of cases can be referred to as a third wave or in some countries the fourth or fifth wave of COVID-19 infection spread. This increase comes on the back of a decrease in cases for many months. 

In many of the countries, the second wave of COVID-19 was more severe in terms of the total number of COVID-19 positive cases as well as the total death toll. In a few of these countries, this period also coincided with the early days of vaccination. The fall in numbers after the second wave was attributed to an extent to vaccination carried out by various countries. However, the rising numbers in recent weeks are a cause of concern as breakthrough cases are being reported across the world. Breakthrough cases refer to those cases where a person tests positive for COVID-19 even after two doses of the vaccine. 

But what is the severity of the third wave of COVD-19 infection? How are the numbers related to the deaths and fatality rates compared to the earlier waves? Is there a correlation between vaccination & fatality rates?  In this two-part series, we look at these numbers from multiple countries that represent two broad groups. 

In the first story, we look at few countries with a higher proportion of the population receiving at least a single dose of the vaccine and whose third & fourth waves look better in terms of death rates compared to the previous waves. 

We collated data available on Ourworldindata.org, which has consolidated the information from official sources of the respective countries across the world. For daily cases & deaths, we considered a 10-day average. 

Fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths during the third wave in the USA 

During the Second wave of COVID-19 infection in the USA, the number of daily COVID-19 cases (10-day average) peaked at around 2.45 lakh cases during mid-January 2021. During this period, the number of daily deaths was also at a high of around 3.5 thousand deaths.  These numbers were considerably higher than the first wave when the number of daily cases peaked at 65 thousand and the deaths around 1.1 thousand. 

However, there was a significant improvement in the fatality rate during the second wave when it reduced to around 1.7% during the peak of the second wave, compared to around 3.5% during the peak of the first wave. Although the fatality rate increased in the USA after the second wave subsided, it was largely due to the lower number of new cases being added which has skewed the fatality rate. 

During the third wave, the number of daily cases is comparatively lower than that of the second wave. Currently, the number of daily cases ranges from around 1.5 to 1.6 lakh with the number of daily deaths around 1 thousand. 

It remains to be seen if this is the peak or the numbers would further increase. On the other hand, the fatality rate is around 1.65% which is lower than the peak of the second wave. 

Currently, around 61% of the US population has received at least one dose of vaccination, while around 52% of the population is completely vaccinated. It ought to be noted that the vaccination did not begin at full scale during the second wave. In terms of the adult population (18+), 74% received at least one dose and 64% are fully vaccinated. 

It is still early days to draw an exact correlation between the reduced fatality rates and the scale of vaccination. However, the declining trend in fatality rates is visible. Moreover, fewer numbers during the third wave in California & New York compared to earlier do indicate the efficacy of the vaccine to an extent. 

The increase in cases is driven by the numbers in Florida & Texas. Although the share of those who are fully vaccinated in these states is only slightly less than in New York & California, there are reports of higher levels of vaccine hesitancy in these two states. 

UK & France experiencing the fourth wave but with a reduced fatality rate

After China, the western European countries including France, Spain, Italy & UK were among the countries worst affected by the COVID-19 outbreak starting early 2020.  The Second & third waves in these countries were reported earlier than in the rest of the world. While the USA is still experiencing the third wave and India is currently in the post-second wave period, most of the Western European countries have entered a fourth wave. 

France

France is currently going through a waning fourth wave, with the peak reached around mid-August 2021.  At the peak during the fourth wave, the number of daily cases was around 25 thousand. During the second and third waves, the peak was around 50 thousand and 40 thousand cases per day respectively. 

  • While the total number of cases is lower during the fourth wave, the significant aspect is the lower number of daily deaths. 
  • During the peak of the second wave i.e., during early November 2020, there were around 600 deaths per day. During the peak of the third wave round mid-April 2021, the number of daily deaths were around three hundred. However, during the peak of the current wave, the highest daily deaths (10-day average) is around 125. 
  • Even the fatality rate has come down during the fourth wave when compared to the earlier waves. During the second wave, the fatality rate was around 2.4%, which reduced to 1.9% during the third wave. During the fourth wave, the fatality rate further fell to 1.7%.
  • During the third wave, about 21% of the population received at least a dose of the vaccine while only about 8% were fully vaccinated. By the time of the fourth wave, around 55% were completely vaccinated and around 71% of the population was vaccinated with at least one dose. 

United Kingdom 

The death toll due to COVID-19 was very high in the United Kingdom during the first two waves. During the peak of the first wave, the number of daily deaths were around 1000. This was also evident in the high fatality rate by the beginning of the second wave. 

  • At the peak of the second wave, the daily deaths averaged around 1.2 thousand. However, with a higher number of cases being reported, the fatality rate was on a decline with around 3.5% during the first half of January 2021. 
  • The UK experienced the third wave around late July 2021, with the number of daily cases around 40-42 thousand. However, the number of daily deaths is much with only 90-100 deaths in a day even during the peak. 
  • After a brief fall in the numbers, UK is now experiencing another round of increase in the number of cases with around 30-34 thousand cases a day. The number of deaths is still around 100-120 on average, much lower during the earlier waves. 
  • The fatality rate has shown a consistent decline which is currently around 1.98%. 
  • So far, the UK has vaccinated around 70% of its population with at least a single dose. 

As in the case of France, the number of deaths due to COVID-19 during the recent waves has been significantly lower than earlier, clearly demonstrating the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing severe disease and death. 

A similar trend is visible in Spain & Italy, where the number of deaths is significantly lower during the recent waves of COVID-19 compared to the earlier waves. 

Fewer deaths despite increasing COVID-19 numbers coincides with a higher Vaccination rate

In all these countries analysed in this story, the common factors are;

  • Higher fatality rate during the initial waves.
  • Fewer daily cases in third & fourth waves compared to earlier waves.
  • A significantly lower number of deaths in the recent waves.
  • The continuous decline in the fatality rate.
  • A higher proportion of the population receiving at least a single dose.  

All these indicate that the vaccines may be helping reduce severe cases & deaths. While there has not been a significant fall in the number of cases (possibly due to new variants), the stark decline in fatality indicates that countries with high-level vaccination are able to prevent deaths. 

However, this analysis will be incomplete unless the data for the countries with lower vaccination is also analysed. In the next story, we look at a few of the countries which are facing a more severe third wave and low vaccination rates. 

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