NEW YORK – The Biden administration’s stark warning last week that up to 100 million Americans could be infected in a fall and winter surge of COVID-19 came as a shock for many people in the country.
After all, 70.5% of the eligible U.S. population ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated and 47.8% of those ages 12 and older are boosted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, a recent CDC analysis estimated that at least three in five Americans have antibodies that indicate previous infection with COVID-19, meaning most people in the United States have natural immunity.
So, with such high levels of protection, why would up to 30% of the population be infected in a possible new wave?
MORE: COVID-19 hospital admissions, deaths set to rise in US for first time in months
Scientists and public health experts said the 100 million estimate – based on mathematical models – does not surprise them and that as immunity wanes and people move indoors due cold, cases will inevitably increase.
“We are definitely capable of sustaining 100 million infections this winter,” Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News. “The model doesn’t mean there will be 100 million cases, but there is potential for a lot of infections. That doesn’t mean everyone should panic.”
Doron explained that even with the high rates of vaccination in the United States, immunity wanes over time, and COVID-19’s ability to mutate has helped it evade – at least partially – the protection afforded by vaccines. . disease, but it is not [fully] protect from infection,” she said.
SEE ALSO: FDA restricts Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine due to rare but serious risk of blood clots
She said when the vaccines were first rolled out in the winter of 2020-21, they were based on the original strain of the virus. For this reason, they protected against infections, serious illnesses and death.
However, as the virus mutated, these vaccines became less effective at preventing infection while being very effective at protecting against the most severe effects of the disease.
“These vaccines are great, but they’re not perfect,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, told ABC News. “They can’t prevent widespread mild infections. We don’t have a vaccine that could turn off COVID like a switch.”
MORE: Doctors investigate why some report COVID symptom rebound after Paxlovid
This means that Americans who are fully vaccinated and boosted may test positive for COVID-19, but this group is unlikely to become seriously ill or die.
Another reason the United States could see such a high number of infections is that as temperatures drop, people are moving indoors, increasing the risk of transmission.
“The weather is going to get colder, and we’ll start going indoors again, and we’ve been increasing transmission over the last winter season and we may have increases again based on seasonality,” Schaffner said.
The prediction comes as the Biden administration asks Congress for $22.5 billion in funding for tests, vaccines and treatments.
If funding is secured, a senior administration official told reporters on Friday that the country would be better prepared to mitigate the effects of the outbreak and keep hospitalization and death rates low.
If Congress rejects the funding, “the consequences of infecting those 100 million people will be greater,” Doron said.
Funding cuts will reduce testing, leading to the undetected spread of COVID-19 infections and fewer treatments for people at high risk of severe illness, which could lead to hospitalization, she said.
Dr Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, added that it will also limit the number of people who have access to vaccines, treatments or tests.
“Some vulnerable people who probably need extra doses won’t get it if they have to pay out of pocket for a vaccine or if they’re not covered,” he told ABC News. “When people don’t know if they will be stuck with a bill, they will stay away from accessing care.”
Experts said the best way people can protect themselves before a flare-up is to make sure they’re up to date on their booster shots, if they’re eligible for one or two doses, and to follow the advice of public health experts.
“There may be a call for another dose of vaccine or in specific places people may have to wear masks again,” Schaffner said. “Please be open to this. … Be prepared, continue to listen and read updates on the virus in your area.”
Copyright 2022 ABC News Internet Ventures.
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