But the US faces a stubborn challenge — vaccine hesitancy — which could prevent some communities from reaching widespread protection levels and suppressing the spread of the virus.
Providing strong incentives to get a shot could help, some experts say.
“Many Americans want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’ They don’t want to wait until everyone gets to some elusive herd immunity,” emergency physician and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen told CNN on Monday night.
“I think it’ll be a lot more effective if we say, ‘Once you are fully vaccinated, that’s the end of the road for you. At that point, you’re able to take off your mask outside, you’re able to go about enjoying many aspects of pre-pandemic life,'” she added.
The Biden administration is expected to announce as early as Tuesday several new recommendations for fully vaccinated people, including “unmasking outdoors,” one federal official told CNN. The new recommendations will offer “guidelines for activities fully vaccinated people can resume,” the official said.
And Americans who have been fully vaccinated will also be able to visit the European Union this summer, a European Commission leader recently said.
“If the message is, ‘Everyone needs to get vaccinated but your life isn’t going to change at all,’ that’s not a great incentive,” Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN on Monday. “We’re learning more and more that these are highly effective vaccines, we know that being outdoors is so much safer than being indoors.”
And offering fully vaccinated people more freedoms, like going outdoors without masks, “would encourage more people to truly step up and roll up their sleeves,” Besser added.
‘Hitting the hesitancy wall’
It will likely take between 70% to 85% of the country being immune — either through previous infection or vaccination — to control the virus, according to some experts.
So far, roughly 42.5% of the population has gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and 28.9% is fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.
A big challenge is ahead.
And data from the CDC shows that fewer new people are getting their first shot versus those finishing up their second.
“I think this is really just hitting the hesitancy wall,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Murray said he expects the US will “start to run out of people willing to be vaccinated” within a matter of weeks.
Among all Americans, 58% say they have had a vaccine dose or will get one as soon as possible, according to new data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). About 28% are “vaccine hesitant,” saying they will wait and see before getting a shot or will only get inoculated if required to do so. The remaining 14% of Americans say they will definitely not get a COVID-19 vaccine, the survey found.
Among American religious groups, White evangelical Protestants are most likely to say they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine, with just over one in four — 26% — saying they won’t get a shot, the survey found.
About 17% of Americans identify as White evangelical Protestant.
Also, Democrats are far more likely than independents or Republicans to be vaccine accepters, the survey found.
About 73% of Democrats said they had received a shot or would get one as soon as possible, while 58% of independents said so.
Among Republicans, the figure fell to 45%, the survey found.
States resume J&J vaccine administration
Meanwhile, many US states are resuming the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration lifted their recommended pause on use of the vaccine Friday and said its label will be updated to warn of blood clot risks. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said administration of the vaccine could resume “immediately.”
The CDC searched and found 15 likely cases of a rare blood clotting condition called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), with three deaths among people who got the vaccine.
At the time of the pause, more than 6.8 million Americans had received the J&J shot.
“There is likely an association but the risk is very low,” Walensky said Friday. “What we are seeing is the overall rate of events was 1.9 cases per million people. In women 18 to 49 years, there was an approximate 7 cases per million. Among women over 50, the rate is 0.9 cases per million. No cases were seen among men.”
While the risk is extremely low, people who suffer persistent, severe headaches or blurred vision, shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain or unusual bruising within three weeks of getting the J&J vaccine should get medical attention quickly, the CDC said in a new posting on its website.
Expert urges precautions for children
Getting children vaccinated will be the last piece of the puzzle in overcoming the pandemic, experts say.
But in the meantime, children will benefit from prevention measures and need to be protected from the virus, Besser, the former acting CDC director, told CNN on Monday.
“I worry when I see states already declaring that the pandemic’s over, that we have victory over the pandemic, given that there are no vaccines for anyone younger than 16,” Besser said.
While children aren’t being hospitalized and dying from the virus at the same rates as adults, “thousands of children have developed a very unusual inflammatory syndrome,” he said.
More than 2,600 children have been diagnosed with MIS-C, a rare but serious condition that’s associated with COVID-19, according to the CDC. At least 33 children with MIS-C have died.
“So it’s very important that we keep the measures in place that public health says (are) essential to reduce transmission, to help protect children until there are vaccines for kids as well,” Besser added.
In newly updated guidance for summer camps, the CDC said that people who can get vaccinated against COVID-19 should do so and everyone should wear masks, distance is still necessary and staying outdoors is best.
The agency said that as vaccines are not yet authorized for children of all ages, prevention measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing must continue even after camp employees are vaccinated.
“All people in camp facilities should wear masks at all times,” with few exceptions, the guidance says. Masks should not be worn while eating, drinking or swimming, it notes.