The US is on track to vaccinate half of all adults by the weekend with at least one COVID-19 shot, according to a White House adviser, but that does not mean the country is finished with the pandemic.
“We do have to remember that there are 100 million-plus adults that still haven’t been vaccinated,” White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response Andy Slavitt told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday. “They’re not there yet, and you don’t win the war until you bring everybody over with you.”
President Joe Biden has set the goal for every state to open vaccination to all adults who want them by April 19, a task that is becoming easier as the supply and accessibility of vaccines increases, Slavitt said.
But despite improvements, the US has a long way to go before reaching herd immunity. Dr. Anthony Fauci has estimated 70-85% of the population needs to become immune. And the pace for vaccinating all willing adults varies greatly among states, according to a CNN analysis of federal data.
While states like New York and North Dakota might vaccinate all willing adults by June, it could take some states until the end of 2021. And in a race against both spreading variants and increasing COVID-19 fatigue, experts say it is imperative to vaccinate Americans quickly.
Some states are pulling back mask mandates and opening up capacity for businesses. But Fauci said Tuesday that foregoing preventative measures while the majority of Americans are still unvaccinated is a mistake.
“It is premature to declare a victory,” Fauci said. “We’ve got to continue and hang in there a bit longer by continuing with the public health measures.”
Fortunately, the US still has tools to stay on course even if the public is fatigued, Slavitt said. Opening vaccine accessibility and focusing on vulnerable groups, as the US did to give 80% of teachers and school staff at least one shot amid calls for school to reopen, can help the nation continue to fight COVID-19, Slavitt said.
Plans to reopen as vaccinations increase
Though health experts caution the battle against COVID-19 is not yet won, many states have already reopened and others are planning to soon as well.
California, the first state to implement a lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic, plans to fully reopen activities and businesses beginning June 15, state officials said Tuesday. The state’s mask mandate will remain in place at least in the short run, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Falling infection rates, low hospitalizations and rising vaccinations are reasons why California can reopen, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said.
On Tuesday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott laid out a 90 day reopening plan leading up to July 4. At that time, the state plans to transition COVID-19 mandates into guidance.
By that time, Vermont officials anticipate roughly 70% of state residents will have received at least one vaccine dose.
Many school districts are also preparing to shift their plans. Of the 101 largest school districts in the country, more than half are offering a full in-person option, though full remote is still available to those families that choose it.
The moves comes as just over half of parents — 52% — said they are likely to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 when a vaccine becomes available for their age group, according to results of a new Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.
Variants spur spikes
Meanwhile, the daily rate of new cases has been on the rise over the last four weeks as highly transmissible variants like B.1.1.7. have spread, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week.
In the past week, five states have accounted for about 44% of new COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
There were about 453,000 new cases in the country in the past seven days, New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey reported nearly 198,000 of those cases.
Michigan had the highest rate per capita and is leading the country in terms of new cases, according to JHU data. Along with Michigan, Minnesota is also reporting some of the highest new cases in the country, however both states have high levels of vaccination, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael Osterholm said.
The problem, he said, is that although the states are vaccinating quickly, enough people still haven’t been vaccinated to outpace the spread. And with transmissible variants surging, Osterholm said he worries a similar problem could occur more widely.
“I wish we had another 3 or 4 months before this B.1.1.7.variant surge started to occur,” Osterholm said.
What life looks life following vaccination
Experts and officials are debating how to monitor vaccinations once life in the US regains a sense of normalcy.
Many experts have called for vaccine passports — documentation of vaccination status that could allow Americans more access to public settings and large gatherings.
New York rolled out the “Excelsior Pass” last month, the first state to do so, which grants residents access to events like sports and concerts.
And in California, certain businesses are already exploring the option of verifying that their customers are vaccinated.
But in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting organizations that receive public funds from requiring proof of vaccination for services or entrance, according to a release from his office.
“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives,” Abbott said. “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health — and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms.”
In addition to vaccination documentation debates, the US will also have to contend with “long COVID,” a condition in which even patients with relatively mild illnesses could suffer symptoms long after their infection, Osterholm said.
As many as one in three people infected with COVID-19 have longer term mental health or neurological symptoms, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.
“It’s going to be, I’m afraid, one of the legacy issues of this pandemic,” Osterholm said.