Experts say Covid-19 vaccinations in the United States are going extremely well – but not enough people are still protected and the country could be at the start of a new wave.
The United States reported a record high over the weekend with more than 4 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine administered in 24 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the country now takes an average of more than 3 million doses per day, according to CDC data.
But only about 18.5% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, and cases of Covid-19 in the country have recently seen worrying increases.
“I think we still have a few tough weeks ahead,” infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist Dr Celine Gounder told CNN on Sunday. “What we do know from the past year of the pandemic is that we tend to be around three to four weeks behind Europe when it comes to our pandemic patterns.”
The highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant has fueled an alarming increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in parts of Europe. And experts fear the United States will be next if Americans don’t double their safety measures until more people are vaccinated.
What’s worse, experts say, is that the variant changes the pandemic’s playbook and could cause problems for younger groups who haven’t yet been vaccinated.
“We have to think of the B.1.1.7 variant as almost a whole new virus,” said Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “It acts differently than anything we’ve seen before, in terms of transmissibility, in terms of affecting young people, so we have to take that very seriously.
You Asked, We Answered: Your Top Questions About Covid-19 and Vaccines
More young people infected, hospitalized
The difference between the previous surges and another possible surge now is that “the people most affected now are the younger people,” emergency doctor Dr Leana Wen told CNN on Sunday.
Older populations have been given priority nationwide for Covid-19 vaccinations. More than 54% of Americans 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, while more than 75% of that same age group have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
But while this age group is now relatively well protected, Wen said, younger groups are still vulnerable as variant B.1.1.7 circulates. The variant is more contagious and can cause more serious illness, experts said. Research suggests it could be more deadly as well.
“We’re seeing in places like Michigan that the people who are currently hospitalized in large numbers are people in their 30s and 40s,” Wen said. “And now we are even seeing more infected children.”
It’s not just Michigan.
“What we are seeing are pockets of infection all over the country, especially in young people who have not been vaccinated, as well as in school-aged children,” said the former commissioner of the country. Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, at “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“If you look at what’s going on in Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, for example, you see outbreaks in schools and infections in social cohorts that have never been exposed to the virus before.”
“The infection is changing its contours when it comes to the people who have it right now,” he added.
In Orange County, Florida, officials reported an increase in Covid-19 cases among 18-25 year olds late last month.
And a third of all Covid-19 hospitalizations in the county were in people under the age of 45, according to Dr Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.
New Jersey officials said last week that variants, including the B.1.1.7 strain, were contributing to an increase in cases and hospitalizations – including in younger age groups.
Between the first and the last week of March, there was a 31% and 48% increase in the number of hospitalizations among 20-29 year olds and 40-49 year olds, respectively, Health Commissioner Judy said on Wednesday. Persichilli.
Meanwhile, older residents saw only single-digit percentage increases, she added.
How can we stop a new wave of infections
Despite alarming warning signs, the United States is not helpless, experts stressed.
Doubling down on security measures – masking, keeping society away, avoiding crowds – coupled with quick and effective vaccinations, can help curb another outbreak of Covid-19, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Saturday.
Here’s why you should continue to wear masks
“We say it over and over and we need the local people, we need the governors, the mayors and others to be able to say that we are not out of it yet,” Fauci said.
“People say, ‘Well you just want to confine us forever.’ No, it won’t last forever because every day that you get four million, three million people vaccinated, you get closer and closer to control.
Hotez estimated on Sunday that the Americans had to wait “another four to six weeks, then we’ll be on the other side.”
“All vaccines seem to work equally well against this UK variant, B.1.1.7… so that’s really good news,” he said. “I am convinced that we will be in a very good place by the summer.”
“But if you are not vaccinated you have to behave like you are very vulnerable to this virus, now is not the time to get sick,” Hotez added.
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