President Joe Biden and his advisors are preparing to acknowledge that the US won't meet his goal of having 70% of American adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before July 4. As we reported earlier this week, the US has surpassed 150MM "fully vaccinated" patients.
However, the pace of vaccinations has fallen substantially.
The CDC released a report yesterday arguing that it's particularly important to reduce "vaccine hesitancy" in 18 to 39-year-olds, who are among the demographics least likely to take the vaccine. Polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that about 13% of Americans are planning to avoid the vaccine no matter what, while another 12% saying they are waiting before making a decision.
The US is missing this goal not for lack of supplies: rather, it's the demand side of the equation that's creating problems for Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci and the other architects of the American COVID-19 response. And as Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to arrest citizens who refuse the vaccine, we can't help but wonder whether the US will eventually embrace more heavy-handed tactics, especially as vaccination rates in some southern states remain stubbornly low.
As the map below shows, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi (which has the lowest vaccination rate in the entire country) are lagging their fellow southern states and the rest of the country. Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Utah have also lagged, along with the sparsely populated western states of Wyoming and Idaho.
As fears about the "Delta" strain have intensified, hospitalizations, particularly hospitalizations involving younger patients, have started to climb.
In Missouri, Arkansas and Utah, the 7-day average of hospital admissions linked to COVID has climbed by more than 30% in the past two weeks. In Mississippi, the hospitalization rate is up 5% during the same period, per Bloomberg. Health experts have recently argued that as COVID testing has fallen off, hospitalizations will be a more reliable indicator of COVID spread. As is the mainstream media's want, describing these trends in percentage terms makes them appear significantly scarier than they actually are, since the 'surge' in Mississippi translates to a total of still less than 1 patient per 100K.
An analysis by the genomics firm Helix showed that the 'more' contagious "Delta" strain is the main driver of new cases in these states.
So far, the US has given at least one jab to more than 53% of the population. But all the states with mounting transmission trail the national average, sometimes substantially. Mississippi has given a single jab to just 35%. Young people are less likely to be vaccinated than older groups.
In Arkansas, Missouri, MIssissippi and Utah, hospitalizations are surging while testing for COVID has dropped off significantly, with the 7-day average nationwide plummeting 55% in the past three months. This makes case counts a less reliable indicator, forcing officials to rely more on hospitalizations.
Some are worried that public health officials are getting too complacent, citing the seasonal nature of the virus. However, as last summer's surge across the Sun Belt showed, there's still a risk that the virus could come roaring back if a mutant strain gains enough of a foothold in a population that it can continue to mutate.
"Delta is driving surges around the world, and I suspect it’s going to be the same here," said William Lee, the vice president of science at Helix. Delta is growing more than twice as fast as gamma in under-vaccinated communities.
But Delta isn't the only threat: the gamma variant, which appears better at evading vaccines, was found to be more prevalent in counties with higher inoculation rates. The Helix research, which hasn’t yet been subject to peer review, is to be published in an upcoming pre-print online.