Push to get Americans vaccinated picks up momentum

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine in Denver, February 28, 2021. (Photo: NYTimes)
The push to get Americans vaccinated has picked up momentum in recent days. Governors and public health officials in more than 40 states have said they will meet or beat President Joe Biden’s goal of making every adult eligible for a vaccine by May 1, and at least 30 states plan to start universal eligibility in March or April.اضافة اعلان

“Everybody in the state vaccinated, that ought to be our goal,” said Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, one of five states where everyone 16 and older is already eligible. “I know we’re not going to be able to attain that goal, but we’re going to absolutely be close and that’s what we need to continue to do.”

In Arizona, everyone 16 and older became eligible this week at state-run sites. In Tennessee, universal eligibility was set for April 5. In New Jersey, officials said they expected to meet Biden’s May 1 goal.

On Tuesday, Texas, Indiana and Georgia announced universal eligibility dates for late March. On Wednesday, Louisiana and Idaho each moved up the date in their states that eligibility would be expanded to those 16 and older. Louisiana set it to Monday and Idaho to April 5. Officials in some other states, including Alabama and Minnesota, have said they expect to meet the president’s May deadline, but have not given exact dates for the eligibility expansions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has not yet laid out a timeline for opening vaccine eligibility to all adults, saying Wednesday he instead preferred to gradually lower the age threshold for vaccination based on the supply of vaccines made available by the federal government.

As of Tuesday, all people 50 and older can receive the vaccine in New York, in addition to teachers, some essential workers and people with some medical conditions that make them more susceptible to serious illness from the virus.

But a number of essential workers identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being part of Phase 1c, the third round of priority groups, are not eligible to get vaccinated in the state unless they meet age requirements. Those groups include construction workers and many retail employees, who are generally not able to work remotely during the pandemic.

The rapid expansion of US eligibility comes as about 2.5 million doses of vaccine are administered across the country each day, according to data reported by the CDC. About 26 percent of the total US population has received at least one vaccine dose, and about 14 percent have been fully vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in people as young as 16 while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be given to those 18 and older.

The pandemic, however, continues with about 55,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths identified each day. Although the number of new deaths continues to fall, reports of new cases have leveled off in recent weeks as more cases of worrisome variants are detected. Case numbers have been persistently high in the Northeast, and new outbreaks have emerged in Michigan, Minnesota and other states. On Wednesday, the country surpassed more than 30 million cases, according to a New York Times database.

At the White House virus briefing Wednesday, federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, again urged caution about the national level of new cases. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said she was enthusiastic about the pace of vaccinations, but worried about people vacationing for spring break.

With new cases plateauing, “I don’t think you can declare ‘victory’ and say you’ve turned the corner,” said Fauci, who is the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a pandemic adviser to Biden. “You’ve got to continue to do what we’re doing: more vaccinations and continue to do public health measures until we actually do turn the corner.”

Many officials hope expanding eligibility and increasing the pace of inoculation could bring those outbreaks under control.

“My thought is that we’re going to see a continued decrease in transmission as we open vaccine eligibility,” said Cindy Prins, a public health researcher at the University of Florida. “It’s not just a matter of more people getting vaccinated, but the variety of ages and kinds of people who can get vaccinated will reduce that transmission.”