Ohio’s chief medical officer says it’s 'when, not if' unvaccinated get COVID-19

Ohio’s medical chief issued a warning on Wednesday regarding the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, saying it’s "just a matter of time" before an unvaccinated person becomes infected. 

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the Ohio Department of Health’s chief medical officer, held a news conference to provide facts and answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines and the current state of the pandemic. He noted an increase of 744 cases in Ohio over the previous 24 hours, a figure that has doubled in the past two weeks, saying the surge is being driven by the more contagious delta variant. 

"What we now know with the advent of the delta variant is that you only have two choices left: Either you get vaccinated or you are going to get COVID-19," Vanderhoff said.

"It is really now just a matter of time," Vanderhoff added. "It is when, not if, an unvaccinated individual develops COVID-19."

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Roughly 45.5% of Ohio’s population is now fully vaccinated, compared to the overall U.S. population of 48.4%. President Joe Biden visited Cincinnati on Wednesday for a televised town hall event and similarly urged Americans to get immunized, referring to it as "gigantically important."

Vanderhoff said hospitalizations in Ohio are up from 200 in early July to 348 on Tuesday and said a greater proportion of both cases and hospitalizations are among young people. 

"From October to December 2020, on average, only 12% of Ohio’s COVID-19 cases occurred among people under the age of 20. But from May to June 2021, just a month or so ago, that figure jumped to 20%," Vanderhoff said. "Likewise, hospitalizations from that same time period jumped from 2% to 5%."

Cleveland Indians v Cincinnati Reds

FILE - Fans walk through the concourse before the game between the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on April 18, 2021, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Nationwide, health officials have reported a similar trend among younger adults. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that adults ages 18 to 49 now make up more than 40% of virus-related hospitalizations in the U.S.

Currently, CDC data shows nearly 80% of adults ages 65 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while 57.1% of people ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated and 59.6% of adults 18 and older. 

The delta variant, which was first detected earlier this year in India and has been identified in other countries worldwide, now accounts for an estimated 83% of COVID-19 cases across the U.S. The percentage is a dramatic increase from the week of July 3, when the highly transmissible variant accounted for about 50% of genetically sequenced cases.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called the latest surge "another pivotal moment" in the pandemic during a press briefing on Thursday, noting that some hospitals are reaching capacity in areas with low vaccination rates.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.