- U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rates vary drastically between states.
- Some experts are concerned that the lower vaccination regions could produce surges or variants that could spread to other parts of the country.
- However, other experts believe that enough people are getting vaccinated on a weekly basis, and that will prevent any serious rise in COVID-19 cases.
Seven in 10 people in Vermont have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as the state nears its target vaccination rate of 80 percent — and potential herd immunity.
In Mississippi, however, just 1 in 3 have received at least an initial dose.
As the United States as a whole hits a 50 percent vaccination rate, the uneven compliance in different states and regions could pose some dangers for summer and fall, experts say.
“Communities with low vaccination rates can serve as hotspots of disease transmission that allow COVID to continue to spread,” said Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Las Vegas in Nevada. “Disease spread isn't contained by political boundaries, so what happens in one state affects people throughout the country.”
As a result, with more Americans traveling and mask mandates lifting in many states, COVID-19 may stick around even as people return to a sense of normalcy.
“We are likely to see occasional surges in disease until we have enough people vaccinated to prevent it,” Labus told Healthline. “Obviously, these are most likely to happen in areas where there is low vaccination coverage, but any community could see increased disease if vaccination levels are lower than needed for herd immunity.”
Experts aren’t certain what level of vaccination is required for herd immunity for COVID-19, but many speculate herd immunity will kick in when around 70 percent of a population is vaccinated.
Vermont and Hawaii are among states approaching that number, but most states still lag far behind.
Surges in summer travel
Travel is poised to rebound this summer, with Americans’ domestic travel likely returning to pre-COVID levels, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.
But unvaccinated, unmasked travelers mixing with others and moving across the country might delay attempts to bring COVID-19 under control.
And the longer the disease hangs around, the higher potential that vaccine-evasive or resistant variants could emerge, says Dr. Jeannie Kenkare, chief medical officer and founder of PhysicianOne Urgent Care.
“With every infection, there is a chance for mutations that could create variants that can evade the immunity of even those who have already been vaccinated,” Kenkare told Healthline.
“We’ve all had a long year in which many people have sheltered in place. This has left people longing for socialization, movement, and travel. These are all things that we know if not done safely, could spread the virus, particularly among those unvaccinated people, which at this point is still a large portion of the population,” she explained.
“The more we socialize and interact, the more we travel, the more the uneven vaccination rates will affect everyone.”
No surge at all?
Not every expert, however, thinks that a “summer surge” is likely.
“I think that throughout the summer, there will continue to be an increase in the individuals being vaccinated, and in turn will not slow down any progress made on COVID-19,” said Denise Rizzolo, PhD, a lecturer in the Master of Public Health program at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
“I don’t think that it is likely that we will see surges this summer,” Rizzolo told Healthline. “Transmission to areas with high vaccination rates is very unlikely. Those who are unvaccinated and travel this summer should continue to take the proper precautions recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to ensure transmission does not occur.”