The Delta variant is a reality test

In all the successful countries, the rate of vaccination falls off partly from an inversion of the no-atheists-in-foxholes rule: When people feel less threatened by the virus, they take fewer precautions. If asked, in their cognitive dissonance they revert to bluster or cite something from the internet. We’re seeing this movie for the fourth time with the Delta variant’s emergence. Vaccine demand will soon turn up again. To its credit, the Times spent 2,000 words on Arkansas vaccine hesitaters without mentioning political party or Donald Trump. Last week, I guesstimated that most countries would be lucky if vaccine compliance reached 80%. The reason is universal: The vaccine is less inviting when case rates are low. This is why those countries that were most successful in keeping Covid out find their citizens least clamoring for the vaccine or pressuring politicians to supply it.

Which brings us to another problem: Our understanding of cases in the U.S. is still awful, still dependent on voluntary testing among subjects, 95% of whom turn out to have symptoms of something else. For all we know, Delta might be rampant among vaccinated people right now without symptoms.

In a related glaring oversight, Kaiser didn’t bother to ask its vaccine-resistant subjects one of the most important questions: Have you had Covid? Our inability to see past “confirmed cases” has been a demonstrable menace, systematically encouraging Americans to underestimate their risk of encountering the virus and overestimate their risk of dying from it.