The United States has ramped up COVID-19 vaccinations in the past few days. The start was slower than expected, but the number of shots dispensed has topped four million, government health officials say.
More than 21 million people nationwide have been infected with COVID-19. The U.S. death toll for those affected by the coronavirus has climbed past 360,000, the most of any country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Some experts believe that real number of U.S. infections is much higher. They say many cases were likely overlooked, in part because of limited testing.
“All you need to do . . . is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units, and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people, and real deaths,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says the pandemic is getting worse in his city. The virus spread rapidly within households as people let their guard down with news of a vaccine’s arrival.
Fauci acknowledges the United States fell short of its goal of having 20 million doses shipped and distributed by the end of December. “There have been a couple of glitches. That’s understandable,” he says. “We are not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about that.”
But Fauci says he has seen “some little glimmer of hope” after doctors administered 1.5 million doses of vaccine in 72 hours—an average of about 500,000 per day.
He expresses optimism that the momentum will pick up by mid-January and that ultimately the nation will be able to vaccinate a million adults per day. (At present, there is no vaccine approved for children age 16 and under.)
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science advisor to Operation Warp Speed, the government’s vaccine development and distribution effort, says 17.5 million doses have already been shipped. About 13 million of those have gone to clinics, hospitals, and other places where they will be administered. In most areas, healthcare workers receive the first shots, followed by the elderly and those with compromised immune systems who want the vaccine.
Some experts warn that an additional surge of infections is likely because of holiday gatherings and the cold weather, which keeps people indoors. Greater illness occurs when people stay inside more for at least two supposed reasons: Little air circulation keeps viruses close to people instead of blowing them away on a breeze; and less sunlight means less vitamin D production—a nutrient needed to boost individual immunity for fighting off illness.
Arizona reported a one-day record of more than 17,200 new cases this week. Health officials say the jump appears to reflect infections from Christmas gatherings—but was also probably magnified by a lack of reporting over New Year’s weekend.
Overseas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says tougher lockdown restrictions in England are forthcoming. Another form of the coronavirus has pushed infection rates to their highest levels on record in the United Kingdom.
Scientists say the variant is more contagious. Fauci says the United States needs to do its own study. But he notes that British researchers believe that the mutated version is no deadlier than the original known version and that vaccines are effective against it.
(People who qualify wait their turns to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on January 3, 2021, at a Houston Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)