The Atlantic Daily: Delta Is Thriving on America’s Immunity Gap

Posted by on July 21, 2021 7:30 pm
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The Delta variant is thriving on America’s immunity gap. The majority of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19—we’re talking more than 97 percent—are unvaccinated. Health-care workers recount horror stories of patients begging for the vaccine all too late.

And yet still only about half the country have completed their doses, despite the shots’ widespread availability. The months-long slowdown is yielding tragic consequences. Where do we go from here?


One question, answered: If I came down with COVID-19 and later got vaccinated, how protected am I from a breakthrough infection?

Katherine J. Wu answers:

This is a great question that’s become more relevant as of late, as case rates climb, and we don’t have concrete answers yet. That said, we can draw on some basic principles of immunology: Your immune cells get better at recognizing viruses the more often they see them (or things that resemble them). After each subsequent exposure, they’ll respond faster and with more precision and oomph. There are—surprise!—caveats to this: Variants that look distinctly different from their predecessors might discombobulate immune-cell memory, for example. But both being infected with actual viruses and being vaccinated with mimics of those viruses can boost your immunity, the latter option being the safer one. For anyone who has experienced the combo, there’s a decent chance that you have extra-ornery immune cells inside you. But because we don’t have much evidence either way, I wouldn’t act as though that’s true.

Read Katie’s reporting on why there’s no good way of measuring whether your vaccine worked—yet.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Start a new book. How about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun? “A more merciful guide to human emotions and delusions would be hard to find.”

A break from the news:

Wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year. Dogs are helping us sniff out when and where.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.

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