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San Diego has among highest vaccine acceptance rate in U.S., survey finds

By Miriam Raftery

April 19, 2021 (San Diego) – More than 3 million people have now died of COVID-19 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, including over 555,000 deaths in the United States, the most of any nation. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 141 million around the world, including over 37 million U.S. cases.  

How does the COVID-19 pandemic stack up against other historic outbreaks—and how did those earlier pandemics end?

The flu pandemic of 1918-1920 was more destructive, killed an estimated 20-50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans. That pandemic infected more than a third of the world’s population due to its higher 10-20% fatality rate.

The Black Death, or Bubonic Plague,  ravaged Europe, Africa and Asia from 1346 to 1364,killing  200 million people. It is believed to have been transmitted from continent to continent by rats jumping merchant ships, carrying fleas into port cities.  An earlier pandemic, the Plague of Justinian from 541 to 532 AD, was also Bubonic Plague. It killed 25 million people, including as many as half the people in Europe in Mediterranean port cities and the Byzantine Empire.

An ancient plague in 165 AD, the Antonine Plague, killed 5 million people, in Asia minor, Egypt, Greece and Italy but its cause remains unknown.  Roman soldiers returning from Mesopotamia brought the scourge with them, which may have been measles or possibly smallpox.

The deadliest scourge in history was smallpox, which thankfully has been eliminated off the face of the earth due to an effective global vaccination strategy.  First documented in Egyptian mummies from the 3rd century BC, the viral disease is estimated to have killed around 500 million people just in the last 100 years of its existence, before the last case in 1975.  Another 400,000 people died in the 1700s in Europe, so smallpox throughout history may have killed close to a billion people—more than all other infectious diseases combined as of when the disease was eradicated.  

In modern times, the HIV/AIDS pandemic killed 36 million people, including over 700,000 in the U.S. between 2005-2012. Thanks to development of new treatments, the disease has become more manageable. Though HIV/AIDS has infected an estimated 75 million since its inception and 38 million today are HIV/AIDS survivors, the number of deaths in 2019 was 690,000 worldwide.

Other serious pandemics include outbreaks of cholera, notably a cholera pandemic from 1852-1860 that killed 1 million people as it spread from India through Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. Cholera is caused by a bacterial infection in contaminated water and is prevented through sanitation efforts. 

An Asian Flu pandemic from 1956-1958 resulted in 2 million lives lost. Like COVID-19, the Asian Flu began in China, quickly spreading throughout southeast Asia and to the U.S. The Hong Kong Flu outbreak in 1968 killed 1 million people worldwide, including 15% of the Hong Kong population. 

Flu vaccines have been credited with slowing the spread of influenza worldwide, with annual booster shots targeting new strains.

COVID-19 vaccines are similarly expected to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus, though likely not completely eliminate it. As of last week, 4.75% of the world’s population has  received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Though the U.S. led the world in COVID-19 deaths, the U.S. is doing far better on the vaccine front.  To date, 25.7% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and 43.2% or 84.3 million people.  Over 209 million doses have been administered.

California has fully vaccinated 25% of its population, or 9.9 million people, and has administered 26.1 million doses so far.

San Diego is doing even better, with 28% of those over age 16 fully vaccinated and nearly half, 48%, given at least one dose.

San Diego County is in the nation’s highest tier for vaccine acceptance, according to a U.S. Health and Human Services survey which shows San Diego County has some of the highest vaccine acceptance rates in the nation. Only 11% of residents saying they probably or definitely wouldn't get the vaccine. The survey also found only 4% of San Diegans said they definitely won’t get vaccinated.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approximately 95% effective at preventing those vaccinated from getting the disease and nearly 100% effect at preventing serious cases or death. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has been paused after six women died of a rare blot clotting complication, out of more than 6 million doses administered in the U.S.

But there are more than health incentives.  In California, major events such as concerts, sports, weddings and private events are allowed to resume – provided participants show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Joyful Padres fans have been flocking back to the stadium, with vaccinated fans allocated to a special section to watch one of the team’s best seasons in memory.