Last week, the United States reached a grim milestone in the pandemic as more than 663,000 people in our country have died from COVID-19, according to news reports. That means one in every 500 Americans has died from this new, viral disease that has the ability to affect a person’s lungs, heart, digestive track and brain.

In our state, one in every 580 Montanans has died from COVID-19, and just last week, Teton County lost its seventh resident, this victim a man in his 60s with underlying medical conditions.

By Sept. 20, COVID had killed as many Americans as the deadly 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic did (about 675,000). To put this in perspective, remember that seasonal influenza kills between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans every year.

The risk of dying from COVID-19 remains very low for otherwise healthy adults, but the disease can be a killer for the elderly and for people of any age who have underlying medical conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and lung diseases. Across America, one in every 35 people age 85 and older has died; one in every 150 people ages 65 to 84 has died from COVID, and one in every 780 people ages 40 to 64 has died.

These are horrific numbers, and many of them reflect deaths that occurred before then-President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed funded and facilitated the development of safe, effective vaccines. There are now three vaccines available and one, the Pfizer-BioNTech two-shot regimen, has received full approval from the FDA. The other two are still being offered under an emergency dispensation from the FDA. Former President Trump has been vaccinated and on March 16 he publicly encouraged all eligible Americans to get vaccinated. Current President Joe Biden is also vaccinated and he too encourages all eligible Americans to get vaccinated.

Now, as the delta variant of the virus rages across the country, we are seeing thousands of needless deaths, many of which could have been avoided had the victims chosen to get vaccinated. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a study published Sept. 10, says people who are not fully vaccinated are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die from the disease or its many complications when compared to the vaccinated population. This study looked at COVID cases in people 18 and older from April 4 to July 17 in 13 different U.S. jurisdictions.

At the same time, another CDC study, recently published, showed that the vaccinations available are very, very effective in preventing hospitalization and death from the delta variant. Specifically, the CDC study showed that the two-shot Moderna vaccine is 95% effective in preventing hospitalizations and 92% effective in preventing trips the emergency room; the Pfizer-BioNTech two-shot vaccine is 80% effective in preventing hospitalizations and 77% effective in preventing ER trips, and the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine is 60% effective in preventing hospitalizations and 65% effective in preventing ER trips.

In the same study, all three vaccines showed continued robust protection for all adults, greater than 82%, against hospitalization, emergency room and urgent-care trips.

Teton County’s vaccination rate among eligible people (those 12 and older) is just 42% and remains lower than the state rate of 52%. On Monday, the state reported that another 1,619 new cases were diagnosed, and Teton County (which had 14 new cases last week, including five cases in children) had 20 active cases and school sporting events were being postponed or canceled in several school districts. The county last week also had three severely ill people hospitalized because of COVID.

Across Montana, hospitals that offer intensive care units are being overwhelmed with severely ill Montanans. Last week, Logan Health (formerly Kalispell Regional Medical Center) reported that it had 37 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Of those hospitalized, 30 were unvaccinated and seven were vaccinated. Nine of the 37 were in the ICU and they were all unvaccinated. Four of those in the ICU were on ventilators and they were all unvaccinated. In Helena, St. Peter’s Hospital had to order a freezer truck to act as a temporary morgue.

Across the nation, reports are being published of people suffering from non-COVID medical emergencies or those needing cancer treatments not being able to access medical care because ERs are overwhelmed with COVID cases. Hospitals in northern Idaho are now rationing care based on which patients are more likely to survive with available treatment.

Please, if you have not gotten vaccinated for this illness, consider doing so. If you have concerns about the safety of the vaccines, make an appointment with your medical provider and talk through those concerns. Your medical provider can help you sort out the misinformation that’s flooding social media from the accurate, medical data that is now available on vaccine safety and efficacy. Your medical provider can also talk with you about possible side effects from the vaccine and help you evaluate the risks from vaccination versus the risks of not being vaccinated. Your doctor or physician assistant or nurse practitioner can also help you avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous online medical providers who are today’s equivalent of the Old West’s snake oil salesmen, who are preying on people’s fears and profiting by selling drugs that have not been shown to be effective at treating this disease.

Teton County has already lost seven adults to this disease and has had one lovely teenager nearly die from complications that mainly affect children. This disease has caused turmoil in our public schools and is stealing our children’s ability to play sports, to travel for extracurricular events and to have a normal school year.

The best way we as a nation have to bring this pandemic under control is for everyone who can get vaccinated to do so. Let’s show our love for our neighbors by getting vaccinated. Let’s all do our part to stop the pandemic.