As expected, the national COVID vaccine rollout has resulted in a significant lowering of mortality rates.

One of the most visually arresting ways to see the effectiveness of the vaccine is to look at the number of “excess deaths” charted in a graph found on the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Excess deaths are the difference between the number of deaths that were expected to occur during a given time period and the number of deaths that actually occurred.

The National Center for Health Statistics has been tracking deaths from all causes for decades, so it can estimate the expected number of deaths for any given week with a high degree of confidence. Excess death numbers are considered the best reflection of COVID’s real impact since not all COVID cases are diagnosed or make it onto a death certificate.

The graph shows U.S. deaths below an upper bound threshold, except for the period between March 2020 and March 2021 when deaths exceeded the threshold. That’s the COVID-19 effect. During that period, the percentage of excess deaths ranged from single digits to a peak of 39.6-44% on Jan. 2, 2021. But since March 13 of this year, the number of deaths has stayed well below the upper bound threshold, even far below expected deaths without a pandemic.

The vaccine is doing its thing. Yet, vaccine hesitancy remains an obstacle to sustaining a lower death rate.

The race to get vaccines in arms is not only to protect people from COVID-19, but to stem the rise of highly infectious variants. The most common source of new infections in the U.S. is a variant that was first identified in Britain.

We’ve encourage our readers to get vaccinated — if not for themselves, then for the good of the community. It’s not just about the health of individuals who get infected with the virus, but the cascading effect they have on people who need medical attention for other reasons. A surge in COVID-related hospitalizations impacts care for patients with all other issues. Our hospitalization rates may not be a cause for acute concern, but they’re not dropping like the rest of the nation — probably because of low vaccination rates among people in high-risk categories. Our vaccination rate for people 70 years and older is 67% compared to 83% nationally.

Too many people, it seems, are depending on everyone else to get vaccinated so the community can reach herd immunity.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed this phenomenon recently.

“I would like to get people away from this concept of referring to something that it is very elusive in its definition because we don’t know what herd immunity percentage of vaccinators, vaccinated people, plus people who’ve recovered. We’ve made estimates that is somewhere between 70 and 85 percent, but we don’t know that as a fact. Rather than concentrating on an elusive number, let’s get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.

To that end, local and state officials should consider ways to incentivize vaccinations. Why not create a lottery? Get a shot and get entered in a $10,000 drawing. Maybe that would spur the fence-sitters to action. The cost should be easy to justify given the COVID relief money now in circulation. Any lottery payouts would be cheap compared to the economic impacts of dealing with a surge.

It’s easy to schedule a vaccine through Mesa County Public Health’s website. Appointments are often available the next day.

If you are unable to complete scheduling online, call 970-248-6900. Press Option 7. Individuals who are more comfortable communicating in Spanish should call the Mesa County Public Health Spanish-language line at 970-255-3700.