The US will likely reach its Covid-19 vaccination goals for the summer, but vaccine hesitancy and variants could still cause a surge in the winter, according to an influential model forecast released Thursday.
President Joe Biden announced a plan Tuesday for the administration of at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to 70% of the nation’s adult population by July 4.
And the forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (IHME) predicts that goal will be reached by the end of May. And by September, 185 million Americans — equivalent to about 88% of the adult population — will be vaccinated, the modelers say.
From there, demand will likely wane as the US comes up against the wall of people hesitant to get the vaccine, the researchers said.
Officials and health experts have set their sights on combating that vaccine hesitancy and reach the 70% to 85% of the total population that needs to be immune to the virus — through vaccination or previous infection — to control its spread.
With more variants being identified around the world, like the one that has sent cases skyrocketing in India, officials are on a clock to encourage Americans to reach that level of immunity before vaccine-resistant variants develop and reach the US.
And looking at the B.1.617 virus variant in India, researchers are even more aware that under certain circumstances, virus transmission can “rapidly and explosively” rise, the IHME noted.
Incentives and requirements could help, survey finds
Incentives, conveniences and requirements — such as cash, workplace clinics and mandatory shots before travel or large events — could be effective ways to encourage more people to get vaccines, according to data published Thursday by Kaiser Family Foundation.
Three in 10 adults who don’t want to get vaccinated immediately — including nearly half of those who want to “wait and see” — said that they would be more likely to get vaccinated if it was offered to them somewhere they normally go for health care or if they only needed one dose, according to the poll, which was conducted April 15-29 and made up of 2,097 US adults.
Other reasons that made people more likely to get vaccinated were if it was required to fly on a plane, to travel internationally or to attend large gatherings like sports events. At least a quarter of people who aren’t ready to get the vaccine straight away said that these reasons would make it more likely that they got vaccinated.
More than a quarter who were not ready to get vaccinated right away said that their employers offering benefits like paid time off for the vaccine and recovery and financial incentives would make inoculation more appealing.
And as the US prepares for the expected emergency use authorization of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in 12-to-15-year-olds next week, the Kaiser Family Foundation also found that 19% of parents said they definitely won’t get their children vaccinated.
KFF notes that “parents’ intentions for vaccinating their children against Covid-19 largely line up with their own vaccination experiences and intentions.”
Reopening and relaxing measures
With vaccine demand and reported cases decreasing, many officials are scaling back large-scale efforts to prevent the virus’ spread.
The Missouri National Guard has begun reducing its involvement at mass vaccination sites throughout the Show-Me State, Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday.
“In the beginning, vaccine demand far outweighed vaccine supply. Now, we are seeing the reverse of that, and the need for large scale vaccination events has lessened,” Parson said. “Missouri is in a good place on the vaccine front, and that is thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of our National Guard members to get vaccines into the arms of Missourians.”
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz announced a timeline to end Covid-19 restrictions, including the state mask mandate.
Walz announced a three-step plan to end most restrictions starting by ending outdoor gathering limits Friday at noon, all capacity limits and distancing requirements indoors and out on May 28 and the state mask mandate by July 1 or when 70% of Minnesotans aged 16 and older are vaccinated.
“So our path forward is pretty clear. Minnesota now, the next three weeks really, it’s on you to get the vaccines,” Walz said. “It’s on you to talk to your neighbors. It’s on you to talk to your doctors. We have them available. They’re out there. Every single one who gets that pushes us further.”
Boosters may be needed to take on variants
Getting initial doses may not be the end of the fight against Covid-19, as vaccine officials say a booster may be required in the coming year.
“We do know that there is a raging pandemic, that reinfections will happen at some point, and the best way to ensure that we do not have renewed outbreaks in well-vaccinated countries is to boost and maintain the highest possible levels of neutralizing immunity,” Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of the pharmaceutical company Moderna, said during an earnings call on Thursday.
Moderna said on Wednesday that a booster shot of its vaccine revs up the immune response against two worrying coronavirus variants: the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa and the P.1 variant first seen in Brazil.
A waning immune response in people naturally infected with the virus also suggests a potential need for boosters, Ozlem Tureci, co-founder and chief medical officer of BioNTech, told CNN.
“Naturally infected people, in those people, there are indications for waning immune responses,” Tureci said Thursday. “So that one would expect that also immunized people, at some point, will have waning immune responses and need boosters.”
There is already six months of follow-up data for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which shows that there is still an efficacy of 90% for prevention of symptomatic disease, said Tureci, adding that they will continue to monitor this to understand more about the timing and frequency of boosters.
“The good news is that the mRNA technology allows frequent boosters,” she said.