- Experts say the Biden administration’s goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. adults vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4 is a realistic one.
- They say that if the goal is achieved, the summer could feel more normal with beach barbecues, weddings, and baseball games.
- They note there are concerns about the fall and winter when the weather turns colder, and people are indoors more often.
Independence Day 2021 could also mark the point at which the United States is mostly free of COVID-19 and restrictions related to the pandemic.
That’s the hope of the Biden administration and its public health officials, anyway.
But questions remain whether the goal of near normalcy can be achieved.
In a May 4 speech, President Joe Biden touted that the administration’s initial goal of delivering 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Americans had been more than doubled, with 220 million doses delivered by the end of April.
“Our goal by July 4th is to have 70 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated,” said Biden. “That means giving close to 100 million shots — some first shots, others second shots — over the next 60 days.
“If we succeed in this effort, as we did with the last, then Americans will have taken a serious step toward a return to normal: That’s July 4th,” Biden added.
Biden outlined the next stages of a nationwide vaccination plan that includes expanding vaccine eligibility to adolescents ages 12 to 15, shipping vaccines directly to pediatricians and rural health clinics, setting up a website and text messaging (ZIP code plus 438829) to find vaccination sites. The president also discussed establishing walk-in vaccination hours at 40,000 pharmacies nationally.
“We recently announced availability of same-day appointments nationwide, allowing patients to schedule appointments with as little as 30 minutes prior to the desired appointment time,” Dr. Kevin Ban, chief medical officer for the Walgreens pharmaceutical chain, told Healthline. “We also added walk-in appointments if a time slot is available and encourage patients to check with their local pharmacist.”
Biden also offered tax credits to companies that give workers time off to get vaccinated and partnerships with retailers, sports teams, and others to provide incentives to people who are reluctant to get the vaccine.
A realistic goal
Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, an infectious disease physician at Wilmington Health in South Carolina, told Healthline that reaching the goal of 70 percent vaccination by early July is “very attainable.”
“It is very easy to get vaccinated today. There is ample supply,” said Kamitsuka. “People need to understand that the vaccine is the only hope we have… The existing vaccine options are 99.9 percent effective in preventing death. This is a very liberating number. This means we are moving toward a more normal life and we can once again spend time with grandchildren and attend family functions and weddings.”
“Our ability to vaccinate 70 percent of the U.S. population by July 4 is contingent on many factors, primarily hesitancy, barriers to access, and new variants circulating,” added Ban.
Adding to optimism about the progress against the novel coronavirus is a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report predicted that COVID-19 cases would continue to increase through May due to the spread of highly infectious coronavirus variants and declines in mask wearing, physical distancing requirements, and compliance.
The CDC report, though, anticipates a “sharp decline in cases” by July as more Americans are vaccinated, “and an even faster decline if more people get vaccinated sooner,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
“[M]odels once projecting really grim news now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring,” Walensky said during a White House press briefing on May 5. “We need to keep vaccinating people, but we all need to keep practicing certain prevention interventions to help us get to the predicted good outcomes.”
A summer that could feel normal
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute on Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said COVID-19 vaccination and infection rates are likely to vary greatly by community, which would affect how quickly a sense of post-COVID normalcy takes hold.
“[I]f you are in a particular community — a town, a city, or what have you — and you have the 70 percent vaccination that the president is aiming for, with a single dose in adults, and you will see, guaranteed, the level of infection go very low. You can start looking at things that you were restricted from doing that gradually you will see the CDC lifting the restrictions,” Fauci told reporters at the May 5 briefing. “That would be anything from indoor dining, to the workplace, to sports arenas, to theaters, to things like that.
“I don’t know exactly which it’s going to be and which will come first, but the bottom line is you will be seeing a clear, noticeable pulling back on some of the public health restrictions,” Fauci said.
“If we continue to see vaccine uptake and steady decline in COVID-19 cases, we can anticipate more businesses and activities opening up by summer,” added Ban. “Outdoor activities like going to the pool, hiking, and barbecues in particular are even safer for fully vaccinated individuals following updated guidance from the CDC that those fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks outdoors. However, mask wearing and social distancing is still recommended for crowded outdoor events like live concerts or sports events.”
“This summer will be similar to (pre-COVID 19) summers, and people will be participating in activities and attending weddings again,” said Kamitsuka. “I’m more concerned about the fall as the weather gets cooler and everyone is inside.”
Despite signs of optimism and returning normalcy, getting more people vaccinated and keeping COVID-19 under control will continue to be a challenge in some states and communities.
“We are beginning to see more hesitancy, particularly among some rural communities, conservatives, and parents of teens, with some regional differences in vaccine demand in line with CDC data,” noted Ban.
North Carolina plans to lift most restrictions on physical distancing and capacity on June 1, but Gov. Roy Cooper says that mask wearing should not end until at least two-thirds of residents are vaccinated. Currently, about half of North Carolina citizens have received at least one vaccine dose.
“In North Carolina, we have a lot of residents who believe that COVID-19 is a hoax. That it is fake news,” said Kamitsuka. “Unfortunately, the public service message about the safety and efficacy of our existing vaccines has been polluted by politics.”
Kamisuka noted that cases in North Carolina have actually risen in the past month after declining from the previous peak in January and February.
“We are seeing younger patients who are sicker with COVID. People in their 30s with no underlying conditions are dying of the coronavirus,” he said. “In my local community, the ones who are dying of COVID are the ones who refused to get vaccinated.”