By: Robert Foster & Ernie Mundell
Half of America’s adults are now fully vaccinated against the new coronavirus, U.S. officials announced Tuesday.
“This is a major milestone in our country’s vaccination efforts,” White House senior COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said during a White House media briefing, noting that only 1% of Americans were vaccinated when President Joe Biden entered office in January.
Slavitt urged Americans who are still hesitant about vaccination to get their shots.
“Find whatever reason you want to get vaccinated. For those not sure yet, do your homework, talk to your doctor or your pharmacist. All concerns are reasonable, but do yourself a favor: Don’t let some guy on Facebook answer your question when good answers are available,” Slavitt said.
Biden has said there will be enough vaccines for every adult American by the end of this month, and all people aged 12 and up are now eligible to receive a shot. At least 25 states, plus Washington, D.C., have now fully vaccinated at least half of their adult residents, CNN reported.
At least 70% to 85% of the U.S. population will need to have immunity to COVID-19 to reach the threshold of protection needed to limit the virus’ spread, health experts have said. Vaccinating children, teens and young adults could help officials reach that percentage, while leaving the young unvaccinated could give the virus a chance to spread, mutate and develop a strain resistant to existing vaccines, CNN reported. Vaccinating children and adolescents will also help schools reopen more safely in the fall.
As the promising vaccination numbers were released, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky offered a mix of hope and caution as Americans prepare to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, the traditional beginning of summer with friends and family.
“If you are vaccinated, you are protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day,” Walensky said during the White House media briefing. “If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you, you remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions.”
The holiday arrives amid a national decline in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. All across the country, mask mandates are easing, restrictions are lifting and many states have gone back to business as usual, The New York Times reported.
After countless Memorial Day events were scuttled last year because of the pandemic, vaccinated Americans may be looking forward to crowded beaches and packed backyard barbecues, Walensky acknowledged.
But she also urged those who remain unvaccinated to add a new activity to their Memorial Day rituals. “I want to encourage you to take this holiday weekend to give yourself and your family the gift of protection by getting vaccinated,” she said. “We are on a good downward path, but we are not quite out of the woods yet.”
Tough travel warnings for Japan
U.S. officials on Monday warned all Americans not to visit Japan because of a spike in coronavirus cases there just two months before the Tokyo Olympics are set to start.
The travel advisories, one issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one that came from the U.S. State Department, don’t ban Americans from visiting Japan, but they could trigger higher travel insurance rates and may discourage some Olympic athletes and spectators from competing in or attending the games, the Associated Press reported.
“Travelers should avoid all travel to Japan,” the CDC said in its alert. “Because of the current situation in Japan, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Japan.”
The State Department’s warning was even more blunt.
“Do not travel to Japan due to COVID-19,” it said in its announcement, which raised the department’s travel alert from Level 3 (reconsider travel) to Level 4 (do not travel).
However, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee said Monday it still anticipates that American athletes will be able to safely compete at the Tokyo Games.
“We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff… coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer,” the committee said in a statement to Reuters on Monday.
Japan has mobilized military doctors and nurses to immunize older adults in two major cities as the government tries to accelerate its vaccination rollout and curb COVID-19 infections before it hosts the Olympics. That move came amid growing calls in that country for the games to be canceled.
Nevertheless, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo beginning on July 23, after a one-year delay, and has made an ambitious pledge to finish vaccinating the country’s 36 million older people by the end of July. There is fear of new variants spreading because such a tiny percentage of the Japanese population — estimated at 2% to 4% — is vaccinated, the AP said.
Asia’s second-largest economy has closed its borders to most international travelers since the pandemic began last year and overseas spectators will not be allowed to attend the Games, the Washington Post reported. The Japanese government said Tuesday that it doesn’t expect the U.S. advisory to affect the Games.
COVID cases, deaths plummet in US
Fewer than 30,000 new coronavirus cases are now being reported daily in the United States, with deaths as low as they have been since last June.
Infection and death rates are dropping dramatically as nearly 50 percent of Americans have now received at least one vaccine shot, the Times reported.
The United States is reporting about 25,700 new coronavirus cases daily, a 39 percent decrease from two weeks ago, according to a Times database. Deaths are down 14 percent over the same period, to an average of 578 per day.
The million-dollar question now is whether increasing vaccinations can crush the virus or whether it will simmer in areas with low immunization rates and resurface when colder weather returns, David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Post.
“If we’re continuing to have disease reservoirs and we have areas with low vaccinations, it’ll hang on until the fall and start to pick up pace again. It’ll find pockets where there are unvaccinated individuals, and have these sporadic outbreaks,” Rubin said.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci was optimistic about the country’s ability to contain the virus.
“I’m sure that we can control it,” Fauci told the Post. “Somewhere between control and elimination is where we’re going to wind up. Namely a very, very low level that isn’t a public health hazard, that doesn’t disrupt society.”
Still, the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the longer the virus has to spread, mutate and possibly change enough to evade vaccines.
“My big concern is that there is going to be a variant that’s going to outsmart the vaccine,” Dr. Thomas LaVeist, dean of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told the Times. “Then we’ll have a new problem. We’ll have to revaccinate.”
In the United States, the vaccination picture is improving by the day. As of Wednesday, 131 million Americans were fully vaccinated and 61.6% of adults had received at least one dose, according to the CDC. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 33.2 million, while the death toll neared 591,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, nearly 167.9 million cases had been reported by Wednesday, with nearly 3.5 million people dead from COVID-19.