In the United States, vaccination rates are falling despite the spread of highly contagious virus variants, fueling the country’s alarmingly high caseload.
More than 50,000 new U.S. cases were reported on Saturday, and case rates are similar to last summer’s second wave. The average number of daily vaccine doses, which rose for months and peaked at 3.38 million, has fallen to 2.86 million, the lowest since March 31, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccination rate stopped rising on April 13 when federal health officials recommended discontinuing use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to allow researchers to investigate a rare bleeding disorder that occurred in six recipients. The Food and Drug Administration lifted the break on Friday and decided to add a warning about the risk of vaccine labeling.
Experts aren’t sure why vaccination rates have dropped or if the hesitation in vaccine, a pre-Johnson & Johnson hiatus problem, is entirely to blame. They suggest the problem is more complicated. Many Americans who were eager to be vaccinated have now been vaccinated, experts believe, and among the unvaccinated, some are completely against it, while others would be given a vaccine if it were more accessible to them.
Whatever the reason for the slowdown in vaccinations, it could delay the arrival of herd immunity, the point where the coronavirus cannot spread easily because it cannot find enough people at risk to infect. The longer this takes, the longer it takes for dangerous variants to emerge and possibly evade vaccines.
Elected leaders and public health officials are struggling to adjust their messages and tactics to convince not only the reluctant but also the indifferent vaccine. With the bulk vaccination sites closed, more patients could be vaccinated by their own doctors, who people are most comfortable with – a postponement that would require the Biden administration to distribute the vaccines in much smaller batches to many more vendors.
The resumption of Johnson & Johnson’s one-off vaccine should help hard-to-reach populations such as Americans in remote communities, migrants and the elderly who may have difficulty getting out of their homes.
White House and state health officials call the next phase of the vaccination campaign “the base game” and compare it to an attempt at voting.
“We are entering a new phase,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, former Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration and director of the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University.
“Now it’s more about getting people vaccines that they want but can’t easily reach the existing sites,” said Dr. McClellan. The walk-in availability New York City allowed in city-operated locations starting Friday could also help vaccinate more people, he said.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health, warned that it was “extremely problematic” to widely denounce as “resistance fighters” those who have not been vaccinated because of indifference or inconvenience. He said on National Public Radio last week, “There are a lot of people who are very excited about a vaccine but not desperate for it – they are not convinced they need it badly.”