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, more than 32.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, with about 26.4 million people having received at least one dose. About 6 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.
Study: Younger adults are biggest spreaders of virus in US
His comments came as 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.
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.
“Our challenge is supply, supply, supply,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Tuesday. “Remember, we will get a vaccine to everybody, it’s just going to take some time.”
The Biden administration announced Tuesday it was boosting the weekly allocation of vaccines to states, tribes and territories by an additional 5%.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the increase will allow for the state to supply about 20% more vaccine doses to local governments in the coming weeks, which means they could choose to expand guidelines on who is eligible for a shot.
“We have statewide priorities set by the federal government but if a local government is now getting more (doses) and they believe in their local circumstance they want to prioritize taxi drivers, Uber drivers because they think that has been a problem, or developmentally disabled facilities or restaurant workers, they have that flexibility,” Cuomo said in a news conference Tuesday.
The state had to shut down and postpone many vaccination appointments following a massive winter storm that pounded the region this week.
New York City officials said Tuesday that people who had their appointments canceled due to weather will be contacted individually for rescheduling, highlighting the city was committed to not making any new appointments until all those people were taken care of.
Pharmacies prepare to start vaccinations
The Biden administration also said Tuesday it will begin direct shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to retail pharmacies next week — starting at about 6,500 stores.
“Millions of Americans turn to their local pharmacies every day for their medicines, flu shots, and much more. And pharmacies are readily accessible in most communities, with most Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said.
CVS said in it will kick off vaccinations next week as part of the federal program. The 11 states where the pharmacy chain will begin vaccinations are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York (not including New York City), Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Vaccination appointments can be booked as early as February 9 at CVS locations that offer the vaccine, the statement said, and eligibility requirements in each jurisdiction will still apply.
The extra doses of vaccine for pharmacies will come from increased productions by vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer, Zients said.
“It’s all a result of the manufacturing scaling up, and we hope that we can do all we can, and we will do all we can, to continue that scale up and make more vaccines available,” Zients said.