Despite signs of normalcy returning across America, from in-person graduations to maskless Memorial Day celebrations, experts warn the country needs to redouble its efforts to get more people vaccinated by July 4.
The US reached its peak of daily vaccinations on April 1, with more than 4.3 million people getting inoculated in one day, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, numbers have dropped to an average of 560,000 daily within the last week.
President Joe Biden has called for 70% of all adults to have received at least one shot by July 4. But a recent CNN analysis of CDC data found the US won’t likely hit the target until mid-to-late July.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, agrees the country isn’t on track to hit the milestone. “So we’ve got to redouble of our efforts,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “States really have to pick up pace. If we just keep going at the status quo I don’t think we’re going to hit that 70% by July 4.”
State leaders have offered incentives ranging from free beer to lottery tickets to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
CDC data shows 63.7% of Americans have received their first dose of vaccine — but misunderstandings about the dangers of transmission and the need for vaccinations could put more people at risk, Jha said.
“I understand that in the short run we may get away with it, having slow vaccination rates,” he explained. “But those people really are vulnerable — once we have more variants circulating in the United States — to get reinfected and potentially get very sick.”
CDC data shows that roughly one in three Americans were infected with COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.
But while people who have been infected may think they now have natural immunity, they may not be accounting for the danger posed by variants, Jha said.
Misunderstandings around vaccines lead to hesitancy
In Mississippi, the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, the governor has attributed residents’ hesitancy to the idea of natural immunity.
CDC data shows that less than 45% of adults in the state have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 35.7% are fully vaccinated.
“We’ve got somewhere between a million or so Mississippians that have natural immunity and because of that there is very very very little virus in our state,” Gov. Reeves told CNN on Sunday.
Reeves and his wife have both been vaccinated, and he said he believes the vaccine is safe and effective. However, the governor called Biden’s goal “arbitrary,” and said the 320,000 Mississippians who have tested positive for the virus could have natural immunity.
The governor said case numbers and hospitalizations are down significantly in his state, so while he encourages people to get vaccinated he feels people have the right to make their own choices.
“This is a bit of a misunderstanding that unfortunately a lot of people have,” Jha said. “There is this idea that if you’ve been infected that you have natural immunity that you don’t need to get vaccinated.
“There is no doubt about it in my mind that a vaccine-induced immunity is much more durable and is going to hold up much better against the variants,” he added.
The CDC published data Monday that showed that even rare breakthrough infections — people testing positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated — create a milder disease response.
People who got “breakthrough” infections after one or two doses of vaccine had 40% less virus in their bodies and were 58% less likely to have a fever. They also spent two fewer days in bed than unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, according to the study.
“The only way to be protected is to be fully vaccinated,” Jha said, adding that people need to receive both shots. “This is why everybody needs a second dose.”
Ongoing debate over vaccine passports
While officials push to increase the vaccination rates, there’s a debate brewing over proof of vaccination, with some state leaders saying they won’t mandate them and others flat out banning them as many Americans begin to travel for the first time since the pandemic.
New York was the first state to issue a digital vaccine passport using IBM’s Excelsior Pass app that displays a personalized QR code-verifying vaccine status. The app was tested at sports games in March.
In April, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the federal government will not issue a vaccine passport.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill banning businesses from requiring customers to provide proof that they have been vaccinated.
“Texas is open 100%,” Abbott said when he signed Senate Bill 968. “We want to make sure that you have the freedom to go where you want without limits.”
Abbott said that “no business or government entity can require a person to provide a vaccine passport, or any other vaccine information as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place.”
Abbott’s signature came on the same day that Carnival Cruise Line confirmed it is resuming operations at the Texas port of Galveston on July 3.
Carnival currently requires proof of vaccination as part of its protocol for passengers.
“We are evaluating the legislation recently signed into law in Texas regarding vaccine information,” the company said. “The law provides exceptions for when a business is implementing COVID protocols in accordance with federal law which is consistent with our plans to comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s guidelines.”
Moderna says 5-year-olds could get vaccine by the fall
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are charging ahead in their research to expand vaccine access to younger ages.
On Monday, Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel said its vaccine will likely be available to children as young as five by the early fall.
“I think it’s going to be early fall, just because we have to go down in age very slowly and carefully,” Bancel said at an event hosted on the social media platform Clubhouse.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already been approved for children as young as 12. And Moderna said it is testing its vaccine on children as young as six months.
Bancel noted the process will take time as it determines the appropriate dosages for small children. “We anticipate data available in the September/October time frame,” he said.
His comments came as research in the journal JAMA Network Open showed that children with underlying health conditions are more likely to be hospitalized or get seriously ill from COVID-19.
The data from 43,465 COVID-19 patients ages 18 years and younger who visited an emergency department or were hospitalized showed those with underlying health conditions were more likely to experience severe illness or hospitalization, with about 28.7% of all those patients having underlying health conditions.
Among the 4,302 who were hospitalized, more than 2,700, 62.9%, had underlying health conditions, researchers noted.
Patients with Type 1 diabetes and obesity were the most likely to be hospitalized, while those who were born prematurely were more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, the data showed.
The report suggested that this information be considered as vaccination priorities and regulations are created.