More than 600,000 people in the U.S. have now lost their lives to COVID-19, a staggering toll that comes even as new infections and deaths steadily decline and much of the country attempts to return to pre-pandemic normal life.
The rate of severe illness and death has fallen dramatically as more and more people get vaccinated, but hundreds of people are still dying daily, offering a striking contrast with the joyous scenes of reopening.
Worldwide, more than 176 million people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, and more than 3.8 million have died from it.
The U.S. in late February became the first country to surpass a half-million coronavirus deaths. That it has taken more than three months to reach 600,000 deaths is a testament to the slowing pandemic — it took just a month for the U.S. to jump from 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 deaths.
But it is also a sign that the virus is still circulating, and new variants pose an even greater threat to the remaining people who are unvaccinated. Nationally, 64.5 percent of people in America above age 18 have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
President BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE has set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of U.S. adults with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4. While 13 states have reached that threshold, others are lagging behind, especially in the southeast, and the nation appears increasingly unlikely to meet Biden's benchmark.
The vaccination rate in the U.S. fell by nearly half in the past few months. At its peak in mid-April, an average of nearly 3.4 million vaccines were being administered daily, according to CDC data, but by May about 1.8 million were being administered, a drop of 46 percent. The daily rate of vaccinations dropped below 1 million doses for the first time earlier this month.
Experts say the effort has already reached the low-hanging fruit of people eager to get vaccinated, and the new phase needs to be much more individually focused. Racial and ethnic disparities persist, with access to a vaccine being reported as the most common impediment. However, there is also a significant political disparity, as white Republicans say they have no intention of ever getting vaccinated.
Officials have acknowledged that multiple states across the country have recently stopped asking for the full allotment of vaccines from the federal government. The federal government last week had to extend the shelf life of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by six weeks, after multiple state officials warned their doses in storage would expire before the end of this month.
Despite the drop in vaccine demand, the nationwide vaccination effort appears to be paying off, with the daily infection rate continuing to drop. In May, the number of new reported COVID-19 cases fell below 10,000 for the first time since March 2020.
More than 33 million coronavirus cases have been reported in the U.S. so far.