And that includes younger Americans, some of whom still are hesitant or may think they don’t have as much to fear from the virus.
Everyone 16 and older is currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. But a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 36% of adults under the age of 35 don’t plan on getting one.
Here’s why it matters that young groups sign up for the shots: When Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned of a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations earlier this month, that increase was predominantly among younger adults, most of whom were not vaccinated.
Some experts estimate that to suppress the spread of the virus, somewhere between 70% to 85% of the US population needs to be immune. So far, roughly 43% of the country has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and about 29.5% is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
The more people are vaccinated, the fewer opportunities the virus has to not only transmit but to further mutate. And we already know what those mutations could mean. One coronavirus variant, for example, which became the dominant strain in the US, helped fuel recent COVID-19 spikes in several states, including Michigan. That strain, the B.1.1.7 variant, is more contagious and hit younger people particularly hard.
And there’s another major reason young people shouldn’t turn away from the shot: long-term consequences of COVID-19.
“One critical way to prevent long COVID is to prevent COVID itself,” National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
“Even for young people who consider their risk of severe COVID to be low, the long-term consequences can be quite serious,” he added. “So long COVID represents one more reason to encourage everyone age 16 and over to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
And those long-lasting symptoms can develop even in people who have mild cases of COVID-19. Americans have reported dozens of persistent symptoms that last months after their infection, including fatigue, headaches, memory loss, gastrointestinal problems, muscle aches, heart palpitations and loss of smell or taste.
‘How many people are going to have to die?’
In a bid to encourage young people to get vaccinated, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has said the state will offer a $100 savings bond to each person between 16 and 35 years old who gets the vaccine.
“West Virginians from 16 to 35 years of age are transmitting this thing faster than anyone,” the governor said. “How many people are we going to have to put in body bags? How many people are going to have to die?”
The governor said roughly 52% of the state’s eligible population has received at least a dose of vaccine and his goal is to get to more than 70% of eligible residents fully vaccinated.
That, he said, will mean “we’ll be able to get rid of the masks and get life back to normal.”
“Our young people have had to stand up a lot of times over the years in West Virginia,” the governor said. “Most of the time they were standing up to go to war. I’m not asking for you to go to war. I’m asking you to do something that could very well save your life, or save the life of your mom, your dad, your grandparents and all your loved ones.”
Governors offer road maps to normalcy
Other governors have opted to incentivize vaccinations by offering a timeline for a return to normal.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday that the state will remove most of its pandemic-related restrictions on commercial activities once 60% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.
State officials say that could be as early as the end of June.
“I believe that New Mexico, by some time in June, will have fully vaccinated enough of our state that we can shed these restrictions and frameworks and instead move closer to a simpler new phase, from fighting to ultimately monitoring the pandemic,” the governor said in a statement.
“We are close and getting closer. But that all depends on New Mexicans continuing to get their shots when it’s their turn,” she added.
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the outdoor mask mandate and said the state hopes to lift the indoor mask mandate once two-thirds of adults are vaccinated with at least one vaccine dose.
About half of the state’s adults currently have gotten at least one shot, he said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also lifted the state’s outdoor mask mandate and said he expects to take “additional actions” in the coming weeks as more people get vaccinated and the COVID-19 metrics improve.
“The fastest way to put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Hogan said.
The governors’ announcements follow new guidance issued by the CDC this week on outdoor mask use for fully vaccinated Americans. The agency said fully vaccinated people can unmask at small outdoor gatherings or when dining outside with friends from multiple households — activities the CDC said unvaccinated people still need to wear a mask for.
What a new study shows about the vaccines
CDC and government officials continue to highlight the effectiveness of vaccines.
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were found in the real world to be 94% effective against COVID-19 hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults ages 65 and older in the US, according to a new CDC study.
That study also found the vaccines were 64% effective among those older adults who were partially vaccinated, meaning they had only received one dose of the vaccines so far.
The findings are consistent with the vaccines’ clinical trial results, which showed an efficacy of about 94% to 95%, researchers from the CDC and several other institutions noted.
“COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and these real-world findings confirm the benefits seen in clinical trials, preventing hospitalizations among those most vulnerable,” Walensky said in a news release on Wednesday.
“The results are promising for our communities and hospitals. As our vaccination efforts continue to expand, COVID-19 patients will not overwhelm health care systems — leaving hospital staff, beds, and services available for people who need them for other medical conditions,” she added.