As the vaccine rollout continues and masks are removed, declarations that ‘COVID-19 is over’ or ‘the pandemic has ended’ are becoming alarmingly frequent. In the United States, vaccine distribution has occurred for little over half a year, with fully vaccinated people making up just “48.2% of the total U.S population” [1]. With so many unvaccinated, the pandemic will only continue to grow, so what is keeping the other 51.8% from getting vaccinated? 

The vaccine’s side effects are one concern. Some possible effects include pain and swelling in the shot area as well as bodily chills, fever, and nausea [2]. These effects, though, tend to disappear within a few days, meaning that fear of side effects is generally a short-term concern. 

Other concerns, according to Boone (2020), include the vaccine causing COVID-19 or the vaccine altering DNA, both of which are false (p.1) [3]. Interferons (proteins released when a virus is detected) communicate with T and B-cells so that antibodies are made [4]. These antibodies then target the SARS-CoV-2’s spike proteins so that they cannot bind to the ACE2 receptors (entry proteins for COVID-19 [5]) and subsequently infect the body with COVID-19 [6]. 

To address the latter concern, SARS-CoV-2 is a non-segmented (chromosomes all in one virus particle) RNA virus which, because like calls to like, requires a similar messenger RNA vaccine, according to Boone (2020) (p. 1) [7]. Simply put, because mRNA “never enters the cell’s nucleus,” it cannot alter a person’s DNA (p. 1) [8].

These concerns, then, are invalid, but concerns regarding the COVID-19 strand mutations are very much real. This past May, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released findings that a dangerous COVID-19 variant called “Delta” (SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2) spreads quickly both in “indoor sports settings and households” [9]. Not only this, but Delta is also highly transmissible in outdoor areas that have high air pollution [10].

Dr. Anita Shallal, who works at the Detroit Henry Ford Hospital, theorizes that the poisoned air particles are good transmitters for the disease or that the pollution weakens the immune system over time [10]. Places with busy traffic and a high build up of sewage water are especially prone to high air pollution and thus COVID-19 [11]. 

To put the danger that Delta poses in context, there is an Alpha strain that is also of concern because SARS-CoV-2 is 50% less communicable than it. Delta, however, is “50% faster than Alpha,” [11]. The danger hierarchy, then, goes Delta, Alpha, and then the original COVID-19 strain. Delta is particularly pointed at people who are unvaccinated, people already marginalized by disability, or those with weak immune systems, such as paraplegics and Parkinson’s patients.  It is deadlier and quicker to spread than its original, making up “more than 20% of cases in the U.S” [11]. 

Global climate change only continues to perpetuate air pollution and so, according to Dr. Anita Shallal, the spread of the Delta strain. Power plants, cars, and machinery all increase air pollution by releasing gases such as carbon dioxide into the air. These gases then are trapped and redirected back towards earth, warming the planet [12] This warming causes more stagnant air, leading to trapping of the pollutants, and higher air pollution [12]. 

The ongoing western wildfires, perpetuated through climate change, are causing even more air pollution with smoke and ash being carried even to the East Coast. States such as North Carolina and New York are experiencing particularly hazy atmospheres, making them particularly susceptible to the COVID-19 variants [13]. 

Climate change always seems to be old news, but its ramifications are more relevant than ever. With the air pollution and wildfires, COVID-19’s variants remain at large. Concerns about getting the vaccine, then, seem to pale in comparison to the potential danger of not getting vaccinated.




[1] Carlsen, A., Huang, P., Levitt, Z., & Wood, D. (2021, July 14). How Is The COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State? NPR.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Possible Side Effects After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[3, 8] Boone, E. (2020). FroSci: My cousin should get vaccinated. Unpublished manuscript, Columbia University. p. 1. 

[4]  Le Page C. Génin P. Baines MG. Hiscott J; (n.d.). Interferon activation and innate immunity. Reviews in immunogenetics.

[5] Sriram, K. Insel, P. Loomba, R. (2021, May 25). What is the ACE2 receptor, how is it connected to coronavirus and why might it be key to treating COVID-19? The experts explain. The Conversation.

 [6] Ni, W., Yang, X., Yang, D., Bao, J., Li, R., Xiao, Y., Hou, C., Wang, H., Liu, J., Yang, D., Xu, Y., Cao, Z., & Gao, Z. (2020, July 13). Role of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in COVID-19. Critical Care.

[7] Chaitanya, K. V. (2019, November 18). Structure and Organization of Virus Genomes. Genome and Genomics: From Archaea to Eukaryotes.

[8] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 4). Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[9] Dougherty, K. Mannell, M. Naqvi, O. Matson, D. Stone, J. (2021, July 9). SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with a Gymnastics Facility - Oklahoma, April–May 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 [10] Mundell, E., & Preidt , R. (2021, July 9). More Air Pollution, Worse COVID Outcomes? | Health News | US News. U.S. News & World Report.

 [11] Katella, K. (2021, July 9). 5 Things To Know About the Delta Variant. Yale Medicine.

[12] The Impact of Weather and Climate Extremes on Air and Water Quality. National Climatic Data Center. (n.d.).

[13] Al Jazeera. (2021, July 21). Growing wildfires in western US causing hazy skies on east coast. Climate News | Al Jazeera.