WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The surge in the latest COVID-19 variant is not only to blame for most COVID cases lately but also most COVID-related deaths.

The CDC says COVID deaths climbed nearly 48 percent in the past week. So, what can we take away from the latest statistics?

The short answer is vaccines work. With the number of cases and deaths escalating, health experts urge anyone still waiting to get the vaccine, to wait no longer.

It’s being called a pandemic among the unvaccinated. The CDC reports more than 97 percent of Americans being hospitalized lately are unvaccinated and 99 percent of COVID-related deaths are now among those who did not get the shot.

“It is concerning for sure,” said Heidi Hemak.

The recent rise in COVID cases and deaths is linked to the delta variant, the fourth variant of the original COVID-19 virus.

“My family and I have been very fortunate that we ourselves have not been infected by COVID in the past,” stated Hemak.

The CDC now estimates the delta variant comprises 83 percent of all COVID cases in the U.S.

“We know that it is a highly, highly contagious variant, much more contagious than even some of the other variants which we’d already identified to being highly contagious and, of course, we still have much of our country that has not been vaccinated,” said Dr. Stan Martin, MD, Director of Infectious Diseases at Geisinger.

The CDC reports nearly two-thirds of all U.S. counties to date have vaccinated less than 40 percent of their residents.

This lack of vaccinations has spurred on virus mutations and serious illnesses and makes those who aren’t eligible for the vaccine even more vulnerable.

“We will see the continued evolution of this virus and other variants down the line. It is conceivable, I mean that we could even face a much, much, much deadlier virus at some point if we don’t get it successfully under control,” stated Dr. Martin.

Hemak and her family are vaccinated. She just wishes more of the community was, too.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now so if you can reduce risk by being vaccinated then I’m definitely all for it,” said Hemak.

The vaccines don’t make you bulletproof. But Dr. Martin says they are extremely effective at preventing infection and serious illness.