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Vaccination slowdown could threaten recovery

The slowdown in the daily pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has sparked concerns from health experts that it could slow the U.S. recovery from the pandemic.

As the Biden administration touted the accomplishment of administering 200 million vaccine doses, doubling the president’s goal of 100 million vaccines administered in his first 100 days in office, the country has seen a drop in the seven-day average of daily vaccinations following weeks of steady upticks.

The U.S. hit a peak in early April of getting 4.63 million COVID-19 vaccines into arms in a single day before Tuesday saw a total of 1.81 million doses administered, according to Our World in Data.

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 Overall, the seven-day average reached a highpoint of 3.38 million vaccines per day last week before it declined to 3.02 million on Tuesday.

Public health experts warn this deceleration of vaccine administration could jeopardize the country’s ability to get the virus under control as variants spread worldwide. It could also signal a decrease in demand due to lack of access or public hesitancy. 

Administration officials attempted to alleviate concerns about the slowed rate of vaccinations, pointing to the increased availability of and confidence in vaccines amid efforts to encourage more people to get their shots. 

When asked about the vaccination rate slowing compared to previous weeks, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBlinken talks with Netanyahu amid escalating violence White House: 'Disturbing' to see Cheney booted for telling the truth The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Republican reactions to Cheney's removal MORE said the administration is trying to address “barriers” that stop people from getting vaccinated, such as the administration’s plan to offer a tax credit to employers who offer paid time off for workers to get and recover from the vaccine.

“We will ...  get to a point where we have greater supply than we have demand is because – only in some regions of the country, I should say, as you know, not everywhere – is because we work quickly to increase supply and provide thousands of easy and convenient locations for people to get vaccinated,” she said. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data indicates there are more than 60 million unused vaccines that have been delivered but not yet administered. As of Monday, all Americans 16 and older are qualified to get the vaccine, meaning eligibility soon will not be a factor in the vaccination rate.  

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On a call with reporters, an administration official downplayed the notion of hesitancy, instead saying it’s not easy to “pinpoint and generalize” whether supply has outpaced demand across the entire country, opting instead to call it a “spectrum.” 

“We don't think that we're talking about a group of people that are quote unquote vaccine hesitant,” the official said. “We think we are now approaching groups of people who are – just by the fact that they're younger, they are less at risk, and therefore, the urgency might be a little bit lower.”

“It doesn't mean that they're hesitant to get the vaccine,” they said. “It just means it needs to be more convenient for them.”

Polls measuring vaccine hesitancy have consistently shown greater reluctance among Republicans rather than just a certain age group. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 45 percent of Republicans said they don’t plan to get the shot, and a Monmouth University poll determined that 43 percent of Republicans “likely will never” get the vaccine. 

The Biden administration has attempted to combat hesitancy through advertising campaigns as well as the COVID-19 Community Corps, which recruits a network of community leaders, including faith leaders, to promote vaccinations.  

The president, during a speech on Wednesday celebrating celebrated surpassing his vaccine goal. Biden compared the vaccination rate to that of his predecessor, saying it would have taken seven months to reach a rate of 200 million doses at the pace the former Trump administration was going.

Biden labeled the accomplishment “great progress” but issued a warning about continuing COVID-19 precautions and restrictions in the coming months. 

“If we let up now and stop being vigilant, this virus will erase the progress we've already achieved, the sacrifices we've made, the lives have been put on hold, the loved ones who have been taken from us, time we're never going to get back, to celebrate our independence from this virus on July 4 with family and friends in small groups,” Biden said. 

When asked if the U.S. had reached the point where less demand for vaccines is the “biggest challenge” instead of ramping up supply, Biden responded, “Not yet.”

The drop-off in vaccinations has also occurred in the days after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a pause for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after reporting six rare cases of blood clots.

Officials emphasized last week that the temporary halt of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not impact the vaccination rollout across the country as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have made up the majority of doses given out. 

Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said it’s “unclear” whether the dip in vaccinations is an “aberration” but could be occurring partly due to the effects of the Johnson & Johnson pause. 

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“There may be a combination of vaccine hesitancy across the board from that, or probably more likely, there were a bunch of clinics scheduled with the J&J vaccine,” she said. “Those have to shift to using Pfizer and Moderna, and so there needs to be sort of a planning and logistical process to set up that switch.”

Health experts expressed concerns last week that the pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines could spark more hesitancy across the U.S. But polls released this week indicated that the pause wouldn’t affect most people’s willingness to get their shot.

Josh Michaud, the associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, called the overall downward trend “concerning if not entirely surprising,” warning that places with less “vaccination coverage” could be at risk to face additional variants of COVID-19 that could be more transmissible or severe. 

“If adults can't be vaccinated at high levels then we might fall short of the level of population immunity that we need to really tamp down outbreaks and might play out as sort of the patchwork of immunity across the country,” he said.