The US government is ramping up its efforts to vaccinate younger Americans against COVID-19 as concerns grow about the spread of a new species that threatens to set the country back in action in the coming months.
The push is underway because the delta variant, first identified in India, has come to account for more than 20 percent of coronavirus infections in the United States in the past two weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday. That’s double what it was when the CDC last reported the variant’s prevalence.
“The delta variant is currently the biggest threat in the United States to our attempt to eradicate COVID-19,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in a White House briefing on the virus. “Good news: our vaccines are effective against the delta variant.”
“We have the tools. Let’s use them, and stamp out the outbreak,” he added.
The White House acknowledged Tuesday that US President Joe Biden will fall short of his goal of vaccinating 70 percent of all American adults with at least one bullet by Independence Day. But he said he’s gotten this far for those 30 and older and expects to meet it for those 27 or older by the July 4th holiday.
Biden is also on track to miss a second goal – to fully vaccinate 165 million adult Americans by July 4. White House coordinator on COVID-19 Jeff Zents has predicted that it will take several weeks to reach that number. On Monday, the United States crossed 150 million vaccinations completely.
“We don’t exactly see it as if something went wrong,” press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
Watch | Some counties will offer Moderna vaccines instead of Pfizer due to shipping delays:
However, administration officials said they are redoubling their focus on vaccinating younger Americans between the ages of 18 and 26, who have been shown to be less likely to get a vaccine when it is available to them.
The rate of new vaccinations nationwide has fallen dramatically over the past month even as vaccines become more available, with fewer than 300,000 Americans now getting their first dose per day on average — a pace that, if it continues, the United States will not reach. Biden’s target of 70 per cent by late July at the earliest.
Officials are also increasingly concerned about regional differences in the vaccination programme.
More than 16 states and the District of Columbia have vaccinated 70 percent of the adult population. But others — particularly in the South and Midwest — are far behind, with four of them not yet reaching adult vaccination rates of 50 percent.
“We succeeded beyond our highest expectations”
The White House said meeting Biden’s vaccination goals is less important than the pace of reopening the country, which is exceeding even its own internal expectations as the vast majority of the country’s most vulnerable people are fully vaccinated and cases and deaths are at their lowest levels since then. The pandemic’s early days, with an average of about 11,000 new infections and less than 300 deaths per day.
More states are opening their doors again, with Michigan on Tuesday becoming the latest state to get rid of its mask mandate and virus restrictions. The state experienced the worst outbreak in the country this spring.
“We succeeded beyond our highest expectations,” Zenz said.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are most at risk of developing complications from COVID-19, but only 53 percent of 25- to 39-year-olds have received a single dose. Among those aged 18 to 24, the rate is 47 percent.
“Where there is a lot of work for the country to do especially with children between the ages of 18 and 26,” Zenz said.
Zents and government experts said the emergence of the delta variant should spur young Americans to get vaccinated.
“The reality is that many young Americans felt that COVID-19 was not something that affected them, and were less motivated to get the shot,” Zenitz said. “However, with the delta type now spreading across the country, and infecting young people around the world, it is more important than ever that they get vaccinated.”
Some rural areas are seeing a significant rise in hospitalizations
The alternative is taking root as there are warning signs about a possible increase in cases in unvacated corners of America. Rural Missouri, including Springfield and Branson, have seen a spike in COVID-19 hospital admissions in recent weeks that health officials attribute in part to delta-variable prevalence among younger, unvaccinated residents.
“There is a risk, a real risk that if there is continued stubbornness on vaccination, you could see localized elevations,” Fauci said.
The White House plans to focus on increased domestic vaccination payments, with First Lady Jill Biden on Tuesday traveling to Mississippi and Tennessee to promote vaccinations, and Biden himself scheduled to visit North Carolina on Thursday.
The variant accounts for half of new infections in regions that include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.