White House officials today said 50% of Americans have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with immunization levels up 11% from last week, as the nation's Delta (B1617.2) variant activity surges.
Vaccination levels improve, studies show impact
Concerns over the more transmissible Delta variant and renewed pressure to get people vaccinated have pushed vaccination levels up. Cyrus Shahpar, the White House's COVID-19 data director, said today on Twitter that vaccination levels have increased 44% over the past 2 weeks.
Meanwhile, a new study suggests that vaccination offers higher protection than previous COVID-19 infection, according to findings from Kentucky published today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and their partners in Kentucky examined hundreds of the state's residents who had been sick with COVID-19 through June of 2021 and found that unvaccinated people had 2.34 times the odds of reinfection compared to those who were fully vaccinated.
Rochelle Walensky, MD, the CDC's director, said in a statement, "If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated."
Another study in today's MMWR added more evidence that vaccination prevented hospitalization in the highest-risk age-groups. For adults ages 65 to 74, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 96% effective for preventing hospitalizations, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 84% effective. For adults ages 75 and older, effectiveness against hospitalization was 96% for Moderna, 91% for Pfizer, and 85% for Johnson & Johnson. However, the analysis was conducted from February through April 2021, before Delta became the predominant variant.
In other vaccine developments, the White House announced yesterday that it will launch a weeklong campaign to get students ages 12 and older vaccinated, ahead of the start of the new school year.
Groups continue push for higher vaccination levels
Meanwhile, state governments and businesses are putting more pressure on people to be vaccinated. For example, California yesterday issued a mandate that calls for all healthcare workers in the state to be vaccinated by early fall, according to the Los Angeles Times. United Airlines announced that it will require employees to be vaccinated, the first major airline to do so. And the Biden administration has signaled that it is considering using federal regulatory powers and the threat of withholding federal funds from institutions to push more Americans to be vaccinated, according to the Washington Post.
And regarding COVID-19 booster shots for high-risk groups, the Food and Drug Administration expects to have a strategy laid out for certain populations by early September, according to the Wall Street Journal. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a moratorium on booster shots at least until the end of September until lower income countries can receive more supply for their first and second doses.
Southern states bearing highest hospitalization burden
Yesterday the United States reported 109,824 new cases, along with 535 more deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. The nation's 7-day average of new cases is just shy of 100,000 a day and is currently at 99,669, according to Washington Post data.
Florida today reported its highest daily total of the pandemic, with 22,783 more cases, as well as 199 more deaths, according to the Miami Herald.
Florid and three other southern states—Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi—account for more than 40% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in the country, according to the Associated Press (AP). As of the middle of the week, Mississippi had only six open intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the whole state.
With Delta variant activity surging, many school districts are trying to head off spread in schools by reinstituting mask requirements; however, some are facing pushback by state governors. Today, an Arkansas judge blocked the state from enforcing a ban on school mask mandates, according to the AP. The state's governor, Asa Hutchinson, said earlier this week that he regretted signing the mandate.
Elsewhere, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is expected today to announce that all staff and students will be required to wear masks when public schools open, according to the New York Times.
Asian countries continue to grapple with expanding Delta variant activity. Japan today reported a new record daily high of 15,645 cases, with signs that outbreaks are intensifying in other parts of the country apart from Tokyo, which has been the country's main hot spot in the latest surge.
South Korea extended its COVID measures by 2 more weeks, and China today reported 80 new local cases, up from 62 reported yesterday. The majority were from Jiangsu province, where a cluster first detected in Nanjing has led to clusters of cases in other parts of the country.
In other developments:
- China pledged $100 million to support COVAX activities, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said today in a statement. It added that China's pledge brings the total raised for COVAX to nearly $10 billion. Also, China's president said yesterday that the country will donate 2 billion vaccine doses to other countries this year, the country's state media reported, according to Reuters.
- In Australia, cases in Sydney reached another high today with 279 new infections, despite being several weeks into a lockdown to contain the Delta spread.
- Belgian officials reported a nursing home outbreak involving the B1612 variant first detected in Colombia, which United Kingdom officials are tracking as a variant of interest. The nursing home residents were vaccinated, and of 21 infections reported, 7 residents died.