Project Bug Files

Who Exactly Are the Vulnerable?

When Covid first hit the scene in early 2020, most people weren’t too phased by it as the idea of a global pandemic was the last thing on anyone’s mind. However, the rapid rate of infection changed the tone, causing the initial levels of confidence or indifference to be replaced by concern, and in some cases, panic. To make matters worse, mainstream media sources were highlighting the lack of information on the subject, constantly interviewing people who claimed to not know what to expect. Unfortunately, this early mix of confusion and panic has created a skewed perception of Covid and the true nature of the threat that it poses.

Fortunately, there is now enough data to begin to piece together a clear, accurate picture regarding the threat that Covid-19 has and continues to pose to our society. And this picture helps us to better understand how the virus spreads, and who it affects the most. In other words, we can now answer the all-important question: Who Exactly are the Vulnerable?

As with any illness or disease, a certain pattern can be seen in terms of who is the most vulnerable to both becoming infected by and suffering the most severe symptoms of Covid. Rather than diving into the endless onslaught of figures and charts, let’s simply break the data down into concise, logical terms, divided into categories that make things far easier to understand.

Physiological Vulnerability

It doesn’t take a medical doctor to know that the healthier a person is, the greater their chances are of beating a virus or even avoiding it altogether. That said, let’s take a moment to consider some of the more common physiological factors that increase a person’s Covid vulnerability.

Pre-existing Conditions: Anyone with pre-existing health issues is automatically at higher risk for both contracting Covid and facing moderate to severe symptoms. This is especially true with regard to respiratory illness, which is where Covid has its first and biggest impact on a person. Anyone with moderate to severe respiratory illness is at a much higher risk of infection and disease than those with a healthy, strong respiratory system.

However, this isn’t to say that respiratory illness alone is a factor. The simple truth is that any chronic illness or condition, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and the like will also cause a person to be more vulnerable to Covid and its effects. Furthermore, it’s not always the condition itself that is the concern. Many medications for chronic illnesses can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more vulnerable for catching the virus, and less capable of fighting it once contracted.

Age: Although age itself isn’t considered a ‘condition’, it can have a significant impact on the vulnerability of an individual when it comes to Covid. With over two years of data now available it is clear that those over the age of 65 are not just most vulnerable to being infected, but they are also more likely to be hospitalised, to suffer the most severe symptoms, and even the most likely to die. One reason for this is the simple fact that many people over the age of 65 have pre-existing conditions of one form or another, making them more vulnerable to any illness, let alone one as aggressive as Covid. However, even healthy people in this demographic are more likely to struggle, given the fact that age makes a person’s body and immune system less robust all round. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to see a clear curve in vulnerability that rises from one age group to the next.

Gender and Genetics: It can be all too easy to imagine that everyone is equally affected by a pandemic, as such events tend to cause us to view humanity as a single collective entity. However, the diverse nature of the human species can prove significant when it comes to illnesses, with Covid being no exception. Data analysis has shown that even gender plays a role in terms of Covid symptoms, with males and females being far from equal in this regard. The fact is that women tended to fare better when it came to severe symptoms, up to and including death. Alternatively, men had a higher rate of mortality, as well as a higher percentage of moderate to severe symptoms overall.

Similarly, race has been discovered to be a critical factor when it comes to infection rates, symptom severity, and even mortality rates. African Americans, for example, had far greater percentages in all of these areas compared to their caucasian counterparts. Hispanic communities were no different, presenting higher numbers of infection, hospitalisation, and mortality during the pandemic. Even Native Americans had higher rates of infection and hospitalisation, causing some to speculate that there could be genetic implications to these results.

While there is some cause to consider that gender and genetics could prove highly influential in terms of an individual’s vulnerability to Covid, there is another side of the coin to consider. Specifically, despite advancements in racial equality, the simple truth is that economic inequality remains a huge problem in countries such as the US. This means that non-white communtiies are less affluent, with less access to healthcare, poorer health and hygiene conditions in general, and a propensity of low-paying occupations that can prove a risk unto themselves. Therefore, these numbers could just as easily prove to be sociological in nature as they could prove to be physiological. Either way, males and minorities are clearly more vulnerable to infection and severe symptoms, which means pandemic protocols need to be adapted accordingly to make sure that these groups receive the focus they deserve.

Environmental Vulnerability

Perhaps one of the most underestimated factors with regard to Covid vulnerability is that of the environment. No matter how healthy we are as individuals, the simple truth is that the conditions of where we live and work affect our health and wellbeing in a most profound way. The following are a few ways in which our environment can increase the chances of contracting Covid and suffering its effects:

Environmental Health: One thing that has become very evident from the emerging pandemic data is the correlation between environmental and personal health. If a person is fortunate enough to live in a place with clean air, clean water, and a low level of sickness and disease, then they are far more likely to be in good health themselves. As such, their vulnerability to any sickness, Covid included, is significantly reduced. However, when air conditions are poor, or when clean water is in short supply, then vulnerability increases substantially. This trend is reflected on the increased number of Covid cases in poorer communities, which has a direct impact on minorities. Statistics show that within the United States, African American communities are among those impacted the most by Covid, with increased numbers of cases, severe illness, and even mortality. In contrast, more affluent communities with better air and water quality tend to prove less vulnerable to the more severe effects of Covid.

Population Density: The population density of an area is another factor that impacts health and wellbeing on every level, not just in terms of Covid. In short, if a person lives in an area less densely populated, the chances of contracting Covid are lower, making them less vulnerable for infection. Additionally, if they do contract the virus, they are less likely to be exposed to it again while infected, significantly increasing their chances of beating the virus. In contrast, those living in more densely populated regions are at an increased risk of being exposed to Covid. This not only makes them more vulnerable to infection, it also makes their recovery all the more difficult as they may be infected multiple times, creating more strain than their immune system can handle. Unfortunately, this is another area where economics plays a role, with a direct correlation between poverty and vulnerability.

Healthcare Availability: A common metric used to measure the impact of the pandemic is that of hospitalisation. Higher percentages of elderly and those with pre-existing conditions require hospitalisation due to complications either directly or indirectly related to Covid. This metric often suggests that healthcare availability is equal across the board, regardless of the age, race, or income of an individual. Unfortunately, this is far from true. The simple fact of the matter is that healthcare, particularly in the form of hospitals, is far more readily available in affluent communities than it is on the other side of the proverbial tracks. As a result, people living in low-income areas are less likely to seek out medical care when they get sick, especially if their symptoms are low-to-moderate in nature.

While this may not matter as much in the case of a common cold or sore muscle, it can mean the difference between life and death in the case of Covid. Data now shows that early treatment of Covid can not only lower mortality rates, but it can also reduce the risk of reinfection due to poor health conditions. Alternatively, the longer a person goes untreated, the greater their risk for moderate-to-severe symptoms, up to and including fatality. This means that persons of low-income neighbourhoods are more vulnerable to both infection and severe symptoms than their more affluent counterparts.

Occupation: One of the main concerns during the pandemic was the risk healthcare workers faced when dealing with countless carriers of the virus. In fact, numerous studies were done in this area alone, seeing how vulnerable hospital workers were in terms of infection and symptom severity, and how well they responded to the vaccines. Needless to say, given the exposure to Covid, healthcare workers were quickly identified as being the most vulnerable to infection, and potentially to more severe symptoms due to the constant exposure they faced.

Healthcare professionals weren’t the only ones to prove more vulnerable to Covid due to occupation. Data analysis suggests that farmers, factory workers, grocery store employees, and those in public transit were also highly susceptible to being hit hard by Covid. One reason for this is the higher exposure rates, specifically in the case of grocery stores and public transit. This stands to reason as the more people an individual is in direct contact with, the greater their risk to infection. However, in the case of factory workers and farmers, part of the vulnerability is due to lower air quality, poor environmental conditions, and the general need to show up to work even when sick. In the end, those occupations that couldn’t be impacted even by the strictest lockdown restrictions were hotbeds for the spread of Covid, making everyone present, both employees and customers, considerably more vulnerable as a result.

Cultural Vulnerability

Another phenomenon revealed by analysing the data of Covid cases is the role culture plays in the vulnerability of an individual. The simple truth is that lifestyle has been shown to be a very significant factor in terms of the spread of Covid, as well as the severity of the symptoms experienced. Different countries have had widely varying results when it comes to battling and even eradicating Covid, despite relying on the same medical science and resources available.

Healthcare Availability: Although the availability of healthcare has already been discussed in the context of environmental vulnerability, there is another layer which needs to be considered. In the case of culture, one thing that has set different countries apart when it comes to effectively battling Covid is universal healthcare. The fact is that having access to a hospital does not necessarily mean a person can afford the cost of hospital care. This is where universal healthcare has shown its true value. In short, nations with universal healthcare have had a higher recovery rate than those without.

One reason for this is that persons with universal healthcare are less likely to wait for symptoms to worsen before seeking medical treatment. In contrast, those who have to pay for treatment tend to wait until their health declines significantly, thereby reducing their chances of a speedy recovery, and in many cases, recovery at all. Furthermore, those nations which invest in their medical system had the best results in Covid recovery, whereas underfunded universal healthcare systems were shown to be less effective than they may otherwise have been. Subsequently, those cultures which place a higher value on a person’s health and wellbeing proved to be the most resilient to the pandemic.

Anxiety and Stress: The direct correlation between mental and physical health is no great revelation. Unfortunately, despite a rise in such things as yoga, meditation, and a healthy work/life balance, some societies are still behind the times when it comes to creating a low-stress culture. And the impact of stress and anxiety on health has been even more evident with regards to the pandemic. Simply put, cultures with a high-stress, high-pace way of life were shown to be far more vulnerable in terms of Covid. As a result, the more ‘advanced’ societies often suffered more from the pandemic than societies lower down the pecking order, with the United States being the main example.

While Scandinavian countries saw the best results in the fight against Covid, the more high-strung nations such as the US and the UK have struggled the most. Part of this is due to the improved work/life balance in Scandinavian countries, which reduces stress, anxiety, and thus reduces such things as heart disease, high blood pressure, and similar conditions. Furthermore, these cultures tend to provide greater stability for the individual, protecting jobs, income, and livelihood, thereby allowing people to take the time and effort needed to fully recover from illness before returning to their normal life. The reduced stress in these cultures directly corresponds to the increased recovery rates, something which underscores the importance of a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.

Diet and Exercise: Ordinarily, diet and exercise are considered an individual’s responsibility. After all, how can a society be held responsible for what a person eats or how much exercise they get? However, the food you eat, and the amount of physical activity you engage in, are very much influenced by the culture you are surrounded by. Which is why it came as little surprise to some when the US had such a high rate of Covid infection, as well as a high rate of pandemic-related deaths. Simply put, in a society given to fast food and sedentary jobs, obesity, heart disease, and even diabetes were not in short supply. And those suffering from such conditions were hit fastest and hardest, with recovery being longer and less common. Furthermore, meat-eating societies saw more severe symptoms from the pandemic, along with a greater number of infections per capita.

In contrast, societies where walking, cycling and other such activities are a part of daily life saw milder symptoms and quicker recovery times. Diet played a key role here too, with plant-based diets proving the best when it came to reducing symptom severity and expediting recovery. Again, while diet and exercise are a matter of personal preference, cultural influence cannot be ignored. This is another reason why Scandinavian countries tended to fare better in the pandemic, as they entertain a healthier, more active lifestyle, with fresh foods more commonly consumed as opposed to the heavily processed foods prevalent in the US. All-in-all, societies that focus more on holistic health instead of drugs and medicines were less vulnerable to the more extreme ravages of the pandemic, showing a direct cultural correlation in terms of an individual’s chances of recovering from, or even avoiding Covid altogether.