A Uniondale resident gets her COVID- 19 booster at Kennedy...

A Uniondale resident gets her COVID- 19 booster at Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead on Oct. 14, 2021. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Nearly a quarter-million Americans would not have died from COVID-19 if they had been vaccinated, according to a new study, an outcome medical experts called “tragic” and partly the result of disinformation about the shots.

At the same time, skepticism over public health science has contributed to growing numbers of young children failing to get vaccinated against other diseases, according to a separate report and medical experts.

The studies came as the CDC announced on Friday that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2021. They also came as new daily case numbers on Long Island continued to climb amid a new omicron subvariant ripple, surpassing 1,300, though deaths and hospitalizations have remained fairly stable.

The Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that more than 234,000 unvaccinated Americans who died between June 2021 and March 2022 — when vaccines were widely available — would have lived if they'd gotten the COVID shot. To date, almost 1 million American have died in the pandemic.

Not surprised by findings

Medical experts on Long Island said they were saddened by the findings, because the deaths were preventable. But they said they were not surprised given the vehemence of the anti-vax movement and disinformation surrounding it.

“It’s tragic and it’s what pediatricians have been saying throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington who is also a local representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It’s really tragic that people have fallen victim to the misinformation that is out there and are not getting their information from reliable sources, and there’s just been an erosion of the public trust in people who are truly experts in these fields, in science.”

A 9 year old from Freeport is given a bandage after receiving the...

A 9 year old from Freeport is given a bandage after receiving the Pfizer COVID vaccine in the Mount Sinai South Nassau Vaxmobile at Freeport High School on Nov. 30, 2021. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health, says the study is “not a shock or not a surprise. It’s been intuitively clear that these vaccines … dramatically decrease the rate of death.”

He said during the delta surge last summer, “virtually everyone that we saw during that phase who died was unvaccinated. ICUs were full of people on ventilators, and they were virtually all unvaccinated.”

He agreed that disinformation on social media and the internet had played a large role in making people hesitant to get the vaccines, adding that national health leaders also had not always been good at communicating how safe and effective the shots are.

Kids skip other vaccinations

Meanwhile, a CDC report found that, compared with the 2019-20 school year, vaccination coverage decreased by about one percentage point for all vaccines among kindergartners.

Medical experts said that was partly due to families missing appointments with pediatricians as the pandemic threw life into a state of chaos. But they said it also was partly due to a growing general skepticism about vaccines that was ignited by opposition to the COVID-19 shots.

“The narrative that the anti-vaccine community has tried to push out there, it’s giving people pause where it might not have before,” Meltzer Krief said. “And it’s really scary because that’s what led to the measles outbreak in 2018,” referring to a sharp rise in cases in New York that was fueled by people who refused to get their children vaccinated against that disease.

Farber agreed, saying, “I think the anti-vaccines sentiment against COVID has spilled over to some extent.”

The CDC on Friday said, for the second straight year, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. The agency said that overall death rates were highest among non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Native and non-Hispanic Black or African American people.

Case numbers up on LI

In the latest test results, Nassau County registered 666 new daily cases on Thursday, while Suffolk County had 671, for a total of 1,337. Medical experts say that is a vast undercount because many people are doing home tests and not sending positive results to the state or county.

Statewide, 10 people, including one in Nassau, died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus.

Hospitalizations statewide were 1,488, an increase of 35.

“The good news is it just appears that the severity of disease isn’t high,” said Dr. David Battinelli, physician-in-chief for Northwell Health. “All the omicron variants have been much less virulent, … on top of the fact that they’re occurring in a population that has more immunity, whether natural, vaccinated or both, than the originals that came around when nobody had any immunity.”

And, he said, “the very high-risk population has learned over a two-year period of time how to keep themselves as safe as possible.”

With David Olson

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