The US is approaching a turning point where Covid vaccinations are sharply reducing infection and hospitalization rates and in turn allowing restrictions on public behavior to be gradually lifted, key figures in the fight against the disease said on Sunday.
“We are turning the corner,” said Jeffrey Zients, the White House Covid response coordinator. With about 58% of adult Americans having received at least one shot of vaccine, and with some 113 million people now fully vaccinated, the country was on track to meet Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of the population at least partially vaccinated by 4 July, he said.
“I think everyone is tired, and wearing a mask can be a pain. But we are getting there, and the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter,” Zients said, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union show.
Anthony Fauci struck a similar upbeat note on ABC News’s This Week. The nation’s top infectious diseases expert said it was time to start loosening guidelines and allowing Americans to start enjoying the benefits of vaccination.
“Yes we do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated,” Fauci said. But he added that the battle was still on to get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, because when that happened “the virus has nowhere else to go”.
The daily load of new Covid cases has plummeted with the advent of vaccines in the US, from a seven-day average of more than 250,000 per day in January to the current average of about 43,000. Hospitalisations and deaths are also dramatically down.
As the US begins to feel the benefits of widespread vaccination, other parts of the world are still mired in the depths of the pandemic. The World Health Organization has pointed out that across the globe the past two weeks have seen more cases recorded than in the entire first six months of the pandemic, with India bearing the brunt.
Amid such a stark gulf between high- and low-income countries, Fauci called on the manufacturers of vaccines in the US to scale up production to allow large quantities of supplies to reach India quickly.
The contrast is all the more glaring given that at home in the US the emphasis now is not on accessing supplies of vaccines but on overcoming vaccine hesitancy. Several states are turning away vaccinations allocated to them by the federal government because demand is so low.
Fauci said the group of those who were “recalcitrant” was relatively small. The Biden administration was seeking to overcome resistance among them by making vaccinations extremely easy to obtain, through walk-in pharmacies and mobile units, he said.
The other method being pursued was to use “trusted messengers” – whether sports or entertainment stars, clergy or family doctors. They would spread the word that vaccines were a safe way of getting back to what Fauci described as “what we used to remember as ‘normal’ before all this happened”.