June 18, 2021 -- More people need to get vaccinated if the United States wants to prevent the spread of deadly variants this winter, says a top vaccine expert.
"Vaccines are our only way out of this," Paul Offit, MD, a member of the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, said on CNN. "Unless we vaccinate a significant percentage of the population before winter hits, you're going to see more spread and the creation of more variants, which will only make this task more difficult."
Offit, a professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, acknowledged that deaths and infections have dropped since the start of the vaccination program in December. But with the number of people getting vaccinated on the decline, the summer lull could turn into another winter surge, he warned. For context, daily vaccinations have dropped from a peak of nearly 2.5 million people in mid-April to fewer than 400,000, The Hill reported.
Experts say it’s possible the U.S. will not reach President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of American adults partially vaccinated by July 4. Currently, the CDC says that 65% of Americans over the age of 18 are at least partially vaccinated, while 55.2% are fully vaccinated.
When asked about reaching the goal on Thursday, Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, did not provide a direct answer, The Hill reported
“We've made tremendous progress. Today, more than 175 million Americans have gotten at least one shot ... hundreds of thousands of people are continuing to get their first shot each day, and we are going to get to 70%, and we're going to continue across the summer months to push beyond 70%," he said.
During his CNN appearance, Offit spoke on vaccine hesitancy, noting it is a problem that affects the whole nation.
"What do we do if a critical percentage of this population chooses not to get vaccinated and chooses to allow this virus to continue to spread, continue to hurt themselves and others, and continue to create variants which become all the more contagious and all the more difficult to contain," he said.
At present, the most troubling variant is the highly transmissible delta variant, which now accounts for 10% of U.S. COVID cases. Earlier this week, the CDC officially classified it a “variant of concern.”. The variant, also known as B.1.617.2, led to a surge in cases in India, where it was first identified, and is also prevalent across the United Kingdom.
But on a positive note, Offit said the vaccines now being given in the U.S. appear to offer strong protection against the novel disease.
"Although immunity might fade for protection against mild disease or asymptomatic infection or low moderate disease, I think protection against critical disease will probably be relatively long-lasting, meaning for a few years," he said. "The so-called cellular immune response induced by these vaccines appears to be excellent."