COVID-19 vaccination efforts may begin to slow down as more Americans get vaccinated, one US official told CNN on Sunday.
More than 42% of the United States population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 28.5% of the population is fully vaccinated.
“We’re going continue to make progress, it might not be as fast as the first 50% (of the population vaccinated), I think that it’s going to be slower. But I think we’re going to continue to get there,” Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said.
Experts say the US is facing some major challenges ahead when it comes to getting more shots into arms, including vaccine hesitancy. While we’re still nowhere near widespread levels of protection, some parts of the country have already begun to see a slowing demand for vaccines. A recent report said that by next month, vaccine enthusiasm will likely reach a “tipping point” and efforts to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations will become much harder.
And many of the Americans who haven’t started their vaccinations yet “are still not sure that they want to take part in this amazing opportunity to put this virus behind us,” National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins recently told CNN.
But Slavitt said there are ongoing education efforts reaching into local communities to get the facts out about the COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s an incredibly effective vaccine,” he said. “When people learn those facts, we find more and more people each month say, ‘You know what, I think I’m going to get vaccinated.'”
What a gradual return to normal will look like
Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci estimate between 70% to 85% of the country needs to be immune to the virus — either through previous infection or from vaccination — to suppress its spread.
But even before we hit those percentages, Fauci said that as more people get vaccinated, the country will reach a point where COVID-19 cases will begin going down dramatically.
But we’re not there yet.
“Right now, we’re averaging about 60,000 cases per day,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday. “As we get lower and lower and lower, you’re going to be seeing a gradual diminution of the restrictions and a more progressive moving towards normality.”
It will be a gradual return to normal, where Americans can begin enjoying outdoor activities, travel, sporting events, theaters and restaurants “little by little,” Fauci said.
Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reported that the country’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases was going down.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Sunday there’s a big reason why he thinks that decline could stick this time.
“The past trends, when we saw cases start to decline, we were somewhat skeptical because we knew a lot of those declines were a result of behavioral changes, people pulling back more, taking more precautions and then as soon as we sort of let our guard down, we saw cases surge again,” Gottlieb said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“Right now, the declines that we’re seeing we can take to the bank,” he added. “I think we could feel more assured because they’re being driven by vaccinations and greater levels of population-wide immunity — not just from vaccination, but also from prior infection.”
More guidance could be coming
For fully vaccinated Americans, more guidance on what they can safely do could be released in just a matter of days.
Part of that coming guidance is going to be on outdoor activities and mask use, Fauci said Sunday.
“In the next few days very likely, the CDC will be coming out with updating their guidelines of what people who are vaccinated can do and even some who are not vaccinated,” he told CNN.
While the COVID-19 safety risks appear to be much lower outdoors, one expert said it’s still important to consider several factors when deciding whether to mask up or not.
“You do have to consider the rate of viral transmission in your community, the vaccination rates in your community and what kind of outdoor setting you’re in,” Dr. Richina Bicette, from the Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN Sunday. “A packed concert where people are shoulder-to-shoulder is going to be riskier than an outdoor volleyball game where you have a large area and people spread apart.”
Slavitt also said Sunday he expects more guidance for fully vaccinated people to be released in the coming days — but he urged Americans to remember that a big part of the country still hasn’t begun their vaccinations.
“Folks who haven’t been vaccinated yet still feel very much at risk, so we have to bring the rest of the country along with us,” he said. “The most important thing we can do: people who haven’t been vaccinated, make sure they get vaccinated.”
Some Americans are missing their second shots
As more shots are making it into arms, a growing number of Americans seem to be missing their scheduled second dose, according to data from the CDC.
About 3.4% had missed that second appointment back in March. About 8% of Americans have missed it now, according to the latest data.
But that’s not an exact count.
If a person received their two COVID-19 vaccine doses from different reporting entities — for example, first from a state-run clinic and then from a local health clinic — the two doses may not have been linked together, a CDC spokeswoman said.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses to be considered fully effective. The Pfizer vaccine is given as two doses three weeks apart and Moderna’s is given four weeks apart.
Fauci told CNN he wasn’t surprised that some people aren’t showing up to get their second dose.
“Whenever you have a two-dose vaccine, you’re going to see people who for one reason or other — convenience, forgetting, a number of other things — just don’t show up for the second vaccine,” he said.
And that phenomenon is not specific to the COVID-19 vaccine, he said, but something that experts tend to see with other two-dose vaccinations.
Fauci: US has ‘moral responsibility’ to help India
Meanwhile, the Defense Department will provide support to India for its COVID-19 response, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Sunday.
Austin said he directed the department to use “every resource at our disposal” to provide the needed materials to India’s frontline healthcare workers. His statement followed news that the Biden administration will deploy additional supplies and support to India as the country battles a violent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The US has a “moral responsibility” to help India and the rest of the world to fight the pandemic, Fauci told CNN on Sunday.
“The United States and India are the two countries now that have suffered the most. They’ve been allies of ours, they’ve been people that we have over the decades and decades had strong collaboration and cooperation with.”
Fauci also told CNN on Sunday that “getting them vaccinations is certainly on the table” and being discussed as a possibility.
Helping India matters to the US for several reasons, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told MSNBC on Sunday.
“First and foremost because we are human beings and we should care about what happens to other human beings around the world,” Murthy said.
Secondly, he said, the uncontrolled spread of the virus in other parts of the world increases the chances of further mutations and variants of the coronavirus that could eventually pose a problem to vaccines, he said.
“And that means that those viruses, those mutant viruses, those new variants, could travel here to the US and cause real challenges here,” he added.