As vaccination rates among young Americans lag, the White House acknowledged on Tuesday that it will miss two key benchmarks in its nationwide campaign to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The first missed goal will be vaccinating 70% of all American adults with at least one shot by July 4, but officials stressed that threshold has been reached for those aged 30 and older and it should be met by July 4 for those aged 27 or older, the Associated Press reported.
A second goal — fully vaccinating 165 million adult Americans by July 4 — will also be missed. White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients projected it will take several more weeks to hit that number, the AP reported. As of Monday, 150 million Americans were fully vaccinated.
Administration officials said they were doubling down on reaching Americans between the ages of 18 and 26, who have proven to be the least likely to get a vaccine once they were eligible, the AP reported.
“I give credit to the Biden administration for putting in place a mass vaccination program for adults that did not exist,” Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The New York Times. “But now we’ve hit a wall.”
The nationwide rate of new vaccinations has plummeted over the past month even as shots have become more available, with fewer than 300,000 Americans now getting their first dose per day, on average. At that pace, the country will not meet Biden’s 70% goal until late July at the earliest, the AP reported.
Officials are particularly worried about regional variations in vaccination rates.
More than 16 states and the District of Columbia have vaccinated 70% of their adult population. But others — particularly in the South and Midwest — are falling behind, with four not having yet reached 50% vaccination rates, the AP reported.
Those numbers are particularly troubling because of the rapid spread of the more contagious delta variant, first spotted in India.
In just two weeks, that variant has come to represent more than 20% of coronavirus infections in the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. That’s double what it was when the CDC last reported on the variant’s prevalence.
“The delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House briefing on the virus. “Good news: Our vaccines are effective against the delta variant. We have the tools. So let’s use them, and crush the outbreak.”
Zients said the rise of the delta variant should motivate younger Americans to get vaccinated.
“The reality is many younger Americans have felt like COVID-19 is not something that impacts them, and they’ve been less eager to get the shot,” Zients said. “However, with the delta variant now spreading across the country, and infecting younger people worldwide, it’s more important than ever that they get vaccinated.”
U.S. COVID Deaths Drop to New Lows
The United States reached two promising pandemic milestones on Monday: COVID-19 deaths dropped below 300 a day and 150 million Americans are now fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in America in 2020, behind only heart disease and cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as the pandemic loosens its grip on this country, it has fallen down the list of the biggest killers, the Associated Press reported.
CDC data suggests that more Americans are now dying every day from accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes or Alzheimer’s disease than from COVID-19, the wire service said.
The statistics should get even better as vaccination rates continue to rise: About 45% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, while over 53% of Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine. But U.S. demand for shots has slumped in recent weeks.
Dr. Ana Diez Roux, dean of Drexel University’s School of Public Health in Philadelphia, told the AP that the dropping rates of infections and deaths should be celebrated. But she cautioned that the virus can still spread and mutate, given the low vaccination rates in some states, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho.
“So far, it looks like the vaccines we have are effective against the variants that are circulating,” Diez Roux told the AP. “But the more time the virus is jumping from person to person, the more time there is for variants to develop, and some of those could be more dangerous.”
Still, many states are doing well: In New York, which was crippled by the coronavirus in the spring of 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted on Monday that the state had 10 new deaths. At the peak of the outbreak in New York, nearly 800 people a day were dying from the coronavirus, the AP said.
On the flip side, Missouri leads the nation in per-capita COVID-19 cases and is fourth behind California, Florida and Texas in the number of new cases per day over the past week despite its significantly smaller population, the AP reported. COVID-19 hospitalizations in southwest Missouri have risen 72% since the beginning of the month.
The fall will likely bring new waves of infection, but they will be concentrated in places with low vaccination rates, Amber D’Souza, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told the AP.
Meanwhile, because of regulatory hurdles and other factors, the United States is expected to fall short of its commitment to share 80 million vaccine doses with the rest of the world by the end of June, White House officials said Monday.
Only 10 million doses have actually been shipped out, including 2.5 million doses delivered to Taiwan over the weekend, and about 1 million doses delivered to Mexico, Canada and South Korea earlier this month, the Washington Post reported.
“What we’ve found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply — we have plenty of doses to share with the world — but this is a Herculean logistical challenge,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a media briefing Monday.
Earlier this month, Biden announced that on top of the 80 million, the United States was purchasing 500 million doses from Pfizer to donate globally over the coming year, with the first deliveries expected in August.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 vaccinations.
SOURCE: Associated Press; Washington Post; The New York Times