“For those who are unvaccinated, they are increasingly at risk as more and more variants develop,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday, referring specifically to the B.1.617.2 or Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
“The news about the Delta variant is proof of why it is so important for us to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the variant is more transmissible and potentially more dangerous.
Concerns about the risk of variants putting an end to a nationwide reopening are shared by many health experts and officials.
“We do not want to let happen in the US what is currently happening in the UK where you have a cumbersome variant that is essentially taking over as the dominant variant, which has made it a very difficult situation in the UK,” he said. Wednesday, adding that the Delta variant accounts for more than 6% of sequenced viruses in the United States.
While the United States has “done very well” in vaccinating its population, Fauci said, “we can not declare victory prematurely because there is still a significant proportion of people who have not been vaccinated.”
“We are pleased to announce that we have submitted an approval for emergency use of our COVID-19 vaccine to the FDA for use in adolescents in the United States,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO. “We are encouraged that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was extremely effective in preventing COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents.”
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming are among the lowest vaccination rates in the country, according to CDC data. And officials are urging citizens that the best way to get ahead of the variants is with vaccinations.
Murthy told CNN: “The good news is that when they looked at the Pfizer vaccine, they found that after two doses it was quite effective in protecting against even the Delta variant.”
States look ahead
In another example of local optimism with improved Covid-19 numbers, about two dozen states have decided to reduce their daily tracking of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University this week.
Many states have been reduced to five updates each week, but others have dropped to three times or less. Florida, for example, has dropped to once a week.
However, some health officials call this step premature in light of current vaccination rates and point to the need for improvement in these areas before states can release the Covid-19 accelerator pedal.
“As far as I know, we are still in a public health crisis as a country … It has not yet been downgraded,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN. on Wednesday.
“An ultimate goal is to get to the point where even those who remain unvaccinated have far less risk – and no one I know has really gotten to that number,” Freeman said of herd immunity.
This week, several states across the country also announced plans to further loosen their Covid-19 protocols. South Carolina lifted an emergency order on the state and proclaimed what Government Henry McMaster called the “fearful” approach the state took to closures and restrictions.
“It is no longer necessary to have a state of emergency, although it is still necessary for us to be wise, follow the rules, follow the guidelines and be very careful,” McMaster said.
In New York, the state plans to lift “virtually all” pandemic-related restrictions when 70% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Government Andrew Cuomo’s office said in a news release Wednesday. According to the release, the state is currently at 69.1%.
Expired vaccines are a new problem
With the delay in vaccinaton rates, some states report that they have Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine doses that expire before they are used.
“There were state health officials who have been sounding the alarm for several months now that they will soon reach the point where supply exceeds demand in those states,” said CNN’s medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen Wednesday.
The seven-day average of vaccines administered daily in the United States was more than 1.12 million, a slight increase from earlier in June, but still far lower than the average of 3.38 million shots per day. Day reached April 13 according to Wednesday’s CDC data.
For Johnson & Johnson vaccines that remain in the United States, requiring only one dose when distributed and have a shelf life of three months at refrigerator temperatures, reduced demand means that the doses are not used and may soon expire.
Dr. Fauci said Wednesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “very, very carefully” investigating the extension of the shelf life or redistribution of Johnson & Johnson vaccines that are expected to expire.
Speaking during the Wall Street Journal Tech Health event on Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky said the company is working to ensure its vaccines can be used and implemented effectively.
“We are working very hard, both at the federal level at the local level, to do everything we can to ensure that these vaccines can be used and deployed in the best possible way,” Gorsky said.
The good news was that we got a lot of vaccines out to meet this initial increase in demand and now make sure we get the best possible implementation and distribution, and the distribution system becomes even more flexible, more flexible, not only here in the US States, between states, but in fact everywhere in the world will be a work that we need to continue to focus on in the coming weeks and months, ”he said.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Adrienne Vogt, Deidre McPhillips, Jacqueline Howard, Jamiel Lynch, Laura Ly, Lauren del Valle, Nadia Kounang, Rebekah Riess and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.