Vaccination, or a lack thereof, is an important piece of the reinfection puzzle. Iran is under-vaccinated compared to many other big, industrialized countries. Officially, 46 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to 58 percent in the United States, 69 percent in France and a standard-setting 83 percent in Singapore.
But the official vaccination figure is misleading, just like the official COVID death toll is. That’s because Iran, for political reasons, has pushed some of the world’s least effective vaccines. In January, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned Western vaccines, including the highly effective messenger-RNA vaccines from U.S. firms Pfizer and Moderna.
. Eighteen states have statewide mask requirements for schools, according to Kaiser, but most large school districts still require masks for students. Many cities still have requirements, particularly for people indoors, and many school districts still require masks.
Perrysburg School Superintendent Thomas Hosler told CNN about his decision to lift the mask requirement; his is one of the 65% of Ohio school districts that have dropped rules as Covid-19 cases have plunged.
“No matter what decision we make, there’s going to be a loud vocal reaction opposed to it,” Hosler said. “It’s a little bit liberating, in a sense, because we’re going to go ahead and make the best decision for kids to keep them safe.”
An increasing number of school districts are making this decision even though the guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed. The government agency still recommends that everyone — students, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools — wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
CNN’s Jen Christensen looked at school records around the country. Here are excerpts of that analysis (the words in bold are mine):
Where masks are still a thing. Masks are still mandatory in states including Illinois, California, New York and Washington. Washington state even promised to withhold money from districts that don’t comply. In those and many other states, parents have staged large protests and sued districts over mask mandates, leaving school leaders with tough choices about how to best keep kids safe.
Where masks are optional. Some, but not all, schools in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio have made masks in schools optional, often citing declines in Covid-19 cases. In Texas, schools aren’t even allowed to require masks, although some districts, including Dallas, have ignored the state and kept the mandates. There’s a federal investigation to determine if the Texas prohibition on mask mandates is impinging on the rights of students with disabilities.
Masks do work. CNN’s Rob Picheta wrote: The science behind masks is fairly clear, and has only become more robust over the course of the pandemic. Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting coronavirus, and some types of masks can help prevent their wearers from catching the virus.
We don’t really know what will happen next with the virus, and that means masks could certainly return. France returned to school masking for many younger kids this week as cases there surged. Masks are still required in secondary schools, according to the media site France 24.
It’s obvious why infections might exceed the population in a given community. “People who were infected with COVID-19 sometime during the start [or] mid [part] of the pandemic are getting infected again,” Ariel Karlinsky, a researcher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem who studies global mortality, told The Daily Beast.
“They are completely untrustworthy,” Khamenei said, without offering proof of his claim. “If they were able to create a vaccine… why do they want to give it to us? Why don’t they use it themselves?”
In fact, billions of people all over the world have gotten the Western vaccines. The safety record is stellar.
But Khamenei’s ban wasn’t about vaccine effectiveness. It was politically motivated. Instead of the best Western vaccines, Iran imported vaccines from countries that are more aligned with its rogue foreign policy. Namely, Russia and China.
The problem is, the Russian Sputnik V vaccine hasn’t been thoroughly tested. And the Chinese Sinovac vaccine is probably less effective than the leading Western vaccines. The Iranian government is also developing its own vaccines, but recently abandoned one of them owing to a lack of orders. “The government’s response has been a disaster,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told The Daily Beast.
Khamenei eventually backtracked somewhat and allowed imports of the British-made AstraZeneca vaccine. But the damage was done.
Iran has administered nearly 93 million doses of vaccine, but the resulting protection is spotty owing to the overall poor quality of the country’s jabs. “I can say that people have accepted the currently available vaccine brands as a better option compared to no vaccination, although they aren’t ideal,” Moradi-Lakeh said.
Iran’s COVID fiasco has implications globally, including in the United States. Iran actually has a lot in common with some of the least-vaccinated U.S. states such as Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Wyoming, Idaho—all of which have vaccination rates in the mid-40s.
If Iranians are getting reinfected at high rates, are Mississippians in trouble, too? Prins thinks so. “Waning immunity is a concern in states with low vaccination coverage.”
It’s increasingly clear that the natural antibodies resulting from past infection by SARS-CoV-2 fade after around six months. The best vaccines, by contrast, hold up much longer. “Long-lasting immunity from natural infection is inferior to vaccination,” Elias Sayour, a University of Florida professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics and director of the school’s Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Initiative, told The Daily Beast.
The fragility of natural antibodies could dash hopes that communities might achieve population-level “herd immunity” against COVID through a combination of past infection and middling vaccine-uptake. “It seems unlikely that herd immunity will be achieved given what we know about viral transmission and breakthrough infection,” Sayour said.
If you live in a state with a low vaccination rate and a low number of COVID cases, it could be because many of your neighbors caught COVID, perhaps during the summer wave of infections from the Delta variant, and still have some natural antibodies. But if vaccination still lags as those antibodies fade, cases could surge again like they did in Iran.
And just like in Iran, there might even end up being more total cases than people as COVID strikes some folks again and again.
In the United States, at least, there’s a simple fix. There are no bans on the best vaccines like there are in Iran. High-quality jabs are free and readily available all over the country.
Iran’s reinfection crisis “really reinforces the need for people who have been infected to get vaccinated,” Prins said, “so they can prolong their immunity.”