The US is unlikely to meet Joe Biden’s goal of at least partially vaccinating 70 percent of Americans by the July 4 vacation, as a senior expert warned Wednesday that those reluctant to shoot are “extremely vulnerable” to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, originally from India.
The Delta variant has become the dominant strain among new cases in the UK and although new Covid-19 cases have declined by more than 90% in the US since January of this year, the new variant is spreading.
The White House has launched a month-long blitz to combat vaccine hesitation and lack of urgency to get the shots, particularly in the South and Midwest, but is increasingly resigned to missing the president’s vaccination goal.
The administration insists that even if the target is not met, it will have little effect on the overall US recovery, which is already ahead of what Biden said it would be months ago.
Ashish Jha, principal of Brown University’s school of public health, said the Delta variant was by far the most contagious variant of the coronavirus ever experienced in the pandemic and potentially the deadliest.
“It’s really a problem,” he told NBC’s Today program Wednesday morning.
Jha said vaccines currently available in the US “hold up well” against the Delta variant, but warned that there are currently too many Americans who refuse to be vaccinated, despite vaccines being available for them.
“We still have many Americans who have not been vaccinated and are extremely vulnerable,” he said of the susceptibility to the Delta variant.
“If you’ve been vaccinated, you’ll be fine,” he added.
About 15.5 million unvaccinated adults must receive at least one dose in the next four weeks for Biden to reach its goal of partially or fully vaccinating 70 percent of US adults by July 4.
The pace of new vaccinations in the United States has dropped to below 400,000 people a day, from a high of nearly 2 million a day two months ago.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that he still hopes the goal will be achieved “and if we don’t, we will keep pushing.”
So far 14 states have achieved 70% coverage among adults, with about a dozen more speed to reach the finish line by July 4. But the variation from state to state is stark.
Fauci said the administration is “begging” states, particularly those with low vaccination rates, to step up their efforts in the coming months, although some of the lagging states barely share the urgency.
In Mississippi, which follows the nation with only about 34 percent of its population vaccinated, Republican governor Tate Reeves called Biden’s goal “nothing short of arbitrary.”
The vaccination rate in the state has dropped so sharply that it would take nearly a year for the state to hit the 70% target.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Reeves said he encouraged residents to get vaccinated, but the most important indicator was the drop in cases in the state.
This sentiment makes the conquest of people like University of Mississippi student Mary Crane, 20, all the more important to Biden achieving his goal. He did not feel much urgency to get vaccinated against Covid-19 because he has already contracted the virus and the family he lives with during the summer break has been vaccinated.
“Initially, it was waiting for everyone else to get it and not getting a vaccine,” she said, explaining why she wasn’t vaccinated. “But now that it’s available, there’s really no reason I didn’t get it, other than the fact that I didn’t get it.”
Crane, 20, said he saw classmates eager to get the vaccine right away – there was a trend when the vaccine first came out posting vaccination cards on social media sites like Instagram. But now that the vaccine has been available for a few months, Crane said he sees fewer young people talking about it.
“Everything is pretty much back to normal now,” he said.