About 70% to 85% of the US population should be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before the country can begin to return to a sense of normalcy, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN Tuesday night.
So far, less than 2% of Americans have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Across the US, nearly 34 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered, with more than 27 million people having received at least one dose — or just over 8% of the population. About 6.4 million people have received both doses, the CDC data shows.
Fauci said he’s hopeful the country can get to that high level of vaccinations by the end of the summer to the beginning of fall.
“Having said that,” he added, “there is an absolute ‘but’ in that. And the ‘but’ is that we have to address the variants.”
Experts have sounded the alarm about the new Covid-19 variants that have been detected in the US, warning the country is now in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible before the variants spread too far and possibly trigger another surge of infections.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said earlier this week that a surge fueled by the variant first detected in the UK — the B.1.1.7 strain — is likely to occur “in the next six to 14 weeks.”
And there are also concerns around what the variants will mean for vaccine efficacy. Studies have suggested a variant from South Africa could pose a problem for vaccines, while a new report this week said a mutation that could impact vaccines has also been detected in samples of the B.1.1.7 strain.
The best thing Americans can do now, Fauci said, is to prevent the virus from spreading further and mutating.
“The only way a virus mutates (is) if it can replicate. So if you vaccinate people and double down on public health measures and keep the level of viral dynamics low we will not have an easy evolution into mutations,” he said. “That’s something that people really need to understand.”
“The way you stop those mutations: Get vaccinated and abide by the public health measures,” Fauci said.
Health officials in three states — New Jersey, California and Alabama — have begun to identify deaths believed to be linked to the variant first identified in the UK. While the B.1.1.7 variant may be more transmissible, it is not known to be more deadly or cause more severe disease.
Seeing deaths caused by the new variants would be no surprise — there’s no evidence they are more deadly than than older variants of the virus, but there is also no evidence they are any less deadly, and more than 3,000 people are dying from Covid-19 every day in the US.
The University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital told CNN on Wednesday that a male patient died February 2 from myocarditis and cardiogenic shock after he contracted the B.1.1.7 variant.
On January 27, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said at a news conference that one person who had died had the coronavirus variant. The patient, who was not identified, had underlying health conditions.
Health officials in San Diego County announced January 28 a “probable” variant case in a 71-year-old man who had died.
Dr. Eric McDonald, San Diego County’s medical director of epidemiology, told reporters “this is a household contact of a confirmed case, who unfortunately, we didn’t have that sample available to prove that it was whole genome sequence B.1.1.7.
“But because there is an intimate member of the household who did have that variant, and that individual was pretty much exposed to that 71-year-old, we are confident in assigning that as a probable case,” McDonald added.
The US has been averaging more than 140,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 3,000 reported deaths per day lately, but very few Covid-19 tests are sequenced to find out whether the virus is a variant.
The limited amount of sequencing has found more than 500 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in 33 states, according to the CDC.
Study: Younger adults are biggest spreaders of virus in US
A group of researchers reported Tuesday that the biggest spreaders of Covid-19 in the US are adults aged 20 to 49 — and efforts to control the spread, including vaccinations, should probably focus on that age group.
The team of researchers at Imperial College London used cell phone location data covering more than 10 million people and publicly available information on the spread of the virus to calculate which age groups were most responsible for the spread of the virus across most of the United States.
They estimated that people 35 to 49 accounted for 41% of the new transmissions through mid-August, and adults 20 to 34 were responsible for another 35%. Children and teens accounted for just 6% of spread while people 50 to 64 made up 15% of transmission.
Experts have previously warned that the surges were largely driven by younger groups, Fauci said, but that doesn’t mean those groups should get the vaccine “at the expense of getting the older people who have the underlying conditions, get vaccinated.”
“You don’t want to deprive them to get the younger ones, because they’re the ones that are going to wind up in the hospital and have a higher rate of death,” Fauci said.
States will see an increase in vaccine supply
Hoping to slow the pandemic as soon as possible, states have been pushing for more supply and ramping up their capabilities to get more shots into arms faster.
As of Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had provided more than $1.7 billion to 27 states, localities, tribes and territories to aid the vaccination effort, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said.
FEMA has assigned more than 600 staff to the effort — with more than half of that staff deployed directly to the vaccination sites across the country.
In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday the state has now vaccinated all teachers and school staff older than 50 who wanted the Covid-19 vaccine. West Virginia began inoculating teachers and staff January 5.
“As soon as we get an ample supply of vaccines, we’ll double back through and get all the people that are under 50,” Justice said.
The Biden administration said Wednesday the federal government will partner with California to launch two new vaccination centers in hard-hit communities.
One center will be in East Oakland and another on the east side of Los Angeles. Both are predominantly Latino communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
The administration said it has increased vaccine supply to states, tribes and territories by more than 20%, including more than 1.3 million shots per day between January 27 and Tuesday.
Despite efforts to administer more vaccine doses to communities, a new national poll from Monmouth University found 24% of respondents said it is likely they will never get the vaccine if they can avoid it.
“Reluctance to get the vaccine is driven more by partisanship than any single demographic factor,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “It says a lot about the depth of our partisanship divide that it could impact public health like this.”
Among Republicans polled, 42% said they will avoid getting the vaccine if they can, while 25% of Independents and 10% of Democrats also plan to avoid the vaccine if possible.
The poll also looked at race as a factor for vaccine hesitancy and found no racial difference in vaccine reluctance among Republicans, but it did find one among Democrats. The poll found that 79% of White Democrats versus 62% of Democrats of color have either received the vaccine or want to get it as soon as possible.