An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the variant.

The United States reached its latest heartbreaking pandemic milestone Friday, eclipsing 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 just as the surge from the delta variant is starting to slow down and give overwhelmed hospitals some relief, the Associated Press reports.

It took 3 ½ months for the U.S. to go from 600,000 to 700,000 deaths, driven by the variant’s rampant spread through unvaccinated Americans. The death toll is larger than the population of Boston.

This milestone is especially frustrating to public health leaders and medical professionals on the front lines because vaccines have been available to all eligible Americans for nearly six months and the shots overwhelmingly protect against hospitalizations and death. An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the variant.

“You lose patients from COVID and it should not happen,” said Debi Delapaz, a nurse manager at UF Health Jacksonville who recalled how the hospital was at one point losing eight patients a day to COVID-19 during the summer surge. “This is something that should not happen.”

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