With roughly 54% of eligible Lancaster County residents vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, the number of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen to the lowest levels since the pandemic upturned daily life.
But if Lancaster County could raise the percentage of vaccinated to 70%, new modeling from a Pittsburgh-based company shows cases could drop by 55%.
“At a minimum, reaching 70% vaccination coverage would prevent at least that many cases from occurring,” said John Cordier, CEO of Epistemix.
Founded in 2019, Epistemix conducts modeling to fight disease and inform policy, according to the company's website.
Cordier added, “A more transmissible virus is going to need a higher level of coverage.”
Cordier ran the local simulation for LNP | LancasterOnline.
If Lancaster and the five contiguous counties — Berks, Chester, Dauphin, Lebanon and York — all raised vaccination coverage from 50% to 70%, cases could decrease eight weeks later by 670, or 53%.
Across the region, Lancaster County has the highest vaccination rate (54.6%) and Berks (45.6%) the lowest.
COVID-19 models typically make predictions on the macro level.
A micro-level projection, though, can show real-world impact, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“These types of models can be used as tools to see where the impact of the vaccine can be,” Adalja said. “You can see just how it translates in your own community.”
Vaccination coverage differs widely across the nation and Pennsylvania.
This is not without consequence, especially as new and more transmissible virus mutations emerge, such as the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
Viruses do not remain the same. They constantly mutate.
Epidemiologists note that the Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than the UK variant, which was 50% more transmissible than the original virus that shut down the U.S. economy.
“The more we allow the virus to circulate in the community, the more chance there is for a newer and more dangerous variant will develop,” said David Lo, professor of biomedical sciences and senior associate dean of research at the University of California, Riverside.
In Pennsylvania, roughly half of those 12 and older are vaccinated, state health department data shows.
If the state raised its vaccination rate to 70% among those eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Cordier said his modeling shows Pennsylvania could reduce the rate of infections by nearly 68%.
“Increasing vaccinations will make it much more difficult for the virus to find people to infect,” Adalja said.