Yesterday and today President Joe Biden and his team of COVID-19 advisors updated their plans to vaccinate all Americans aged 16 and older by the end of summer against COVID-19, an ambitious goal that will require support from Congress, the full power of the Defense Production Act, and the confidence of the American people.
“In order to vaccinate every American over the age of 16, we need 500 million doses of vaccine,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID Response, in a press conference today.
Each vaccine requires two doses per person, administered 3 to 4 weeks apart. Slavitt said both Pfizer and Moderna are on track to deliver 200 million doses to the United States by the end of March, and yesterday Biden announced he was planning 200 additional doses to be delivered through the summer.
“There is no stockpile, we have a rolling inventory of 2 to 3 days of supply we are passing to the states in real time,” Slavitt said.
Even if the ambitious vaccination campaign is successful, it will require patience from millions of Americans who are anxious to get a dose as soon as possible. To that end, Slavitt and Jeff Zients, Biden’s COVID czar, said the Biden administration can commit to the following: 100 million doses administered during the first 100 days of office, 10 million doses given to the states for each of the next 3 weeks, and more transparency to governors about how and when they should expect vaccine supply. Going forward, Slavitt said, governors will know 3 weeks in advance how much vaccine their state will be getting.
The plans come as more American express a desire to get vaccinated as soon as possible, according to a new poll conducted by Kaiser Health News. Forty-seven percent of Americans polled said they already were vaccinated or wanted to get a vaccine as soon as possible, up from just 34% who said they wanted the vaccine quickly in December.
Twenty percent of those polled said they will only get the vaccine if it’s required, or will definitely not get it.
CDC head shares ‘hopeful signs,’ warns against travel
The vaccine plan news comes as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Rochelle Walensky, MD, said there were some hopeful signs the pandemic was stabilizing.
Walensky said the 7-day average of new cases has decreased across the county by 21% to 160,000 per day, and the 7-day average of new hospitalizations decreased by 15% to 3,000 per day.
“I am encouraged by our trends, but case rates remain high, and our most recent models show 479,000 to 514,000 deaths will be reported by February 20,” Walensky said. “This is not news we want to hear.”
Yesterday the United States reported 142,511 new COVID-19 cases, and 3,990 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the nation has seen 25,551,884 cases and 427,844 deaths.
Walensky also warned of the growing threat of COVID-19 variants, and said the CDC has identified 308 B117 variant cases in 26 states, and one P1 variant in Minnesota. To date, the US has no reported cases of P1351, known as the South African variant.
“Now is not the time to travel,” said Walensky.
Anthony Fauci, MD, the chief medical advisor to Biden, also spoke about the variants, saying he was confident the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would offer at least some protection against new strains. He said the bigger threat would be that monoclonal antibody therapies currently in use might be less effective against variants.
“There will be attempts to develop other antibodies,” Fauci said. “We have to be one to two steps ahead of the variants.” Both Walensky and Fauci emphasized that variant strains of COVID-19 have always been expected.
One-third of US students have not had in-person school since March
Citing data from an organization that analyzes school websites, NPR reports that roughly one- third of the country’s K-12 students have not had a single day of in-person instruction since March of last year. This includes much of the West Coast, Mid-Atlantic states, and big cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.
The news comes as teacher’s unions across the country are demanding teachers and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to the classroom. In Chicago, 14,000 staff could strike on Feb 1, when children were set to return to school buildings. They are arguing it’s not safe to return to school until the city sees a positivity rate of 3% or less — a metric the city hasn’t seen in 10 months.
But the CDC has released promising new data in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report this week that includes a case study of 17 in-person schools in Wood County, Wis., this past fall. Masks were required among students, and students were taught in cohorts of 11 to 20 children.
Only 7 cases of COVID-19 cases among 4,876 students were recorded, and there was no transmission from students to 654 staff.
“These findings suggest that attending school where recommended mitigation strategies are implemented might not place children in a higher risk environment than exists in the community,” the authors concluded. “In-person schooling for children has numerous health and societal benefits, especially for children and parents of lower socioeconomic status.”
Other US developments
- Johnson & Johnson said yesterday the company is on track to deliver 100 million vaccine doses to the United States by the end of June. The vaccine has yet to be approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.
- The Wisconsin Senate yesterday voted to end the statewide mask mandate, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Republican lawmakers say the requirement to wear masks in public is unconstitutional. The state Assembly will take up the issue tomorrow.
- The Washtenaw County Health Department is recommending all students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor stay in place and avoid gatherings until Feb 7 due to rising variant cases. Of 175 cases detected in on campus since the beginning of the winter term, 14 were the B117 variant.