Many countries have reintroduced lockdown rules to slow the spread of the virus over the winter months, while travel restrictions followed the discovery of new variants, especially those first identified in the U.K. and South Africa.
Since the beginning of the health crisis, governments around the world have claimed that vaccination can help communities achieve herd immunity and return to a normal life. Some countries like the United States have also curtailed freedoms to move, socialize and engage in leisure activities in hopes of ending the pandemic. But these strategies have ultimately failed.
Gibraltar, a territory with a population of around 34,000, began vaccinating citizens in December 2020 with only 1,040 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five deaths. After a comprehensive vaccination program that extended to many visitors, the number of new infections increased five-fold to 5,314 and the number of deaths increased 19-fold to 97.
This would be around 2,853 deaths per million, which is one of the highest European mortality records.
However, those who are responsible for the vaccination denied any causal link. After a few months of calm, the epidemic resumed in the territory, showing that a 115 percent vaccination coverage does not protect people from the disease itself.
Malta, with an 84 percent vaccine coverage, saw the pandemic rise again in July 2021 with fatal variants. Iceland, with a 75 percent complete vaccination cycle, saw daily infections rise from about 10 to 120 daily infection rates, stabilizing at a rate that is higher than the pre-vaccination period. This convinced its chief epidemiologist of the impossibility of herd immunity.
Belgium boasts complete vaccination for 65 percent of its population, but at the end of June 2021, the number of new daily infections had risen from less than 500 to nearly 2,000 due to the delta variant. (Related: Nearly all "covid" deaths in September occurred in the fully vaccinated.)
Israel, which championed the use of Pfizer vaccines, has a 70 percent fully vaccinated population. However, the COVID-19 cases rebounded in June 2021, with more than 11,000 cases recorded in one day in September – surpassing the peaks seen in January 2021, during the outbreak following the first Pfizer injections. By the end of July, 71 percent of the recorded seriously ill Israelis were fully vaccinated.
Even as vaccination programs continue, the mortality rate continues its trajectory with a rising number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Data from Johns Hopkins University resource center is far from conclusive as information from different countries is also affected by different factors, such as their testing capacities and disparate definitions of what constitutes a COVID-19 death.
However, the official death toll is believed to be drastically underreported, with an estimated 7 to 13 million excess deaths globally – some two to four times higher than the official mortality figures.
Excess mortality, or the additional deaths beyond the routinely attributed factors, is widely considered a more objective indicator of deaths attributed to the pandemic. It has been used to estimate deaths in pandemics and other extreme events such as natural disasters since London's Great Plague in 1665.
The current vaccines do not prevent infection or reinfection, nor do they reduce hospitalizations and disease severity or prevent deaths. In Israel and in the U.K., two countries with high vaccination rates, vaccinated individuals suffer from an increased risk of mortality compared to the unvaccinated.
Learn more about what is happening with the COVID-19 responses around the world at Pandemic.news.