Vaccination pace picks up steam; normality appears closer


The accelerating pace of vaccinations across the United States is offering hope that something close to normality is on the horizon.

A significant taming of the pandemic in the U.S. could be just a matter of a few weeks, with an average 3 million people being vaccinated each day and 4 million alone getting shots on Saturday.

Across the country, more than 75 percent of people 65 or older have received at least one shot, as have more than 40 percent of all adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A majority of states have now opened vaccine eligibility to all adults, and the remainder will do so by a new target date set by President Biden for April 19, a goal moved up from May 1. 

“We just need a handful more weeks,” said Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health. 

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb likewise wrote on Twitter that a “vaccine inflection point,” where the situation dramatically improves, is likely coming in “2-3 weeks.”

The country is not out of the woods yet, however, and the short-term risks of more contagious variants of COVID-19 have been reflected in surging cases in parts of the country. The easing of restrictions have led to larger gatherings of people — including 38,000 who attended the Texas Rangers home opener — leading to worries for public health officials.

Experts are urging individuals and governors to maintain precautions for a little while longer, including wearing masks, distancing from others and avoiding crowds. They say doing so could be the difference between life and death for some people.

“The question is in this interval, how many more preventable cases, preventable hospitalizations and preventable deaths” will occur before “getting to this outcome we absolutely can reach and we will reach pretty soon,” Schwartz said. 

Biden acknowledged the tension between the good news and bad news in urging people not to drop precautions just yet in a speech at the White House on Tuesday. 

“We’re making incredible progress,” he said. “There’s a lot of good news. But there’s also some bad news. New variants of the virus are spreading and they’re moving quickly. Cases are going back up. Hospitalizations are no longer declining.”

“The virus is spreading because we have too many people who see the end in sight [and] think we’re at the finish line already,” he added. 

Daily deaths from the virus have fallen significantly as more vulnerable people get vaccinated, but there are still about 750 people dying every day from COVID-19, according to the latest CDC statistics. 

Cases have plateaued and are even ticking back up again at a very high level, around 64,000 per day. 

The situation is particularly worrisome in the Northeast and Midwest — no place more so than Michigan, which has seen alarming spikes in cases and hospitalizations, with deaths beginning to rise as well. 

Some experts say the situation in Michigan is concerning enough that the federal government should surge additional vaccine doses into the state to try to blunt the spike. 

“Michigan is going vertical, will exceed its peak of the pandemic in new cases, and it’s vexing to see why we (US gov’t) have not aggressively helped get Michiganders more vaccine protection,” tweeted Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research. 

The Biden administration so far has not changed its allocation formula to shift more vaccines to hard-hit areas, which would mean giving fewer doses to other areas. 

The rise in cases in some states comes as more contagious variants of the virus, particularly one first identified in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7, become more prevalent and as states relax restrictions. 

“We don’t want to declare victory prematurely,” Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said on MSNBC on Tuesday, warning of examples like the packed stands at the Rangers’ baseball stadium.

Still, Fauci expressed hope that the pace of vaccinations would be enough to prevent a spike in cases nationally, even if they do tick up in some places. 

“As long as we keep vaccinating people efficiently and effectively, I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” he said of a new wave. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to still see increases in cases. Whether it explodes into a real surge or not remains to be seen. I think that the vaccine is going to prevent that from happening.”

While some Republican-controlled states have already lifted most or all of their restrictions, even blue California on Tuesday held out the promise of a return to normality in the next couple of months. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced a goal of fully reopening by June 15. 

“With more than 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California’s economy,” Newsom said. “We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic. We will need to remain vigilant, and continue the practices that got us here  wearing masks and getting vaccinated  but the light at the end of this tunnel has never been brighter.”

Experts largely agree that the situation will be dramatically better by the summer.

“The question is how do these next several weeks go,” Schwartz said. “We just need to hang on a bit longer.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus COVID-19 Gavin Newsom Joe Biden vaccinations

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