NEW YORK – The spread of compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations in the US has so far not had the desired effect as the number of Americans getting their first vaccinations has fallen sharply in the past few weeks. And some experts fear that switching to booster delivery could only make matters worse.
There are concerns that the introduction of booster vaccinations will lead some people to question the effectiveness of the vaccine in the first place.
“Many of my patients already say, ‘If we need a third dose, what for?'” Said Dr. Jason Goldman, a doctor in Coral Springs, Florida.
The average daily number of Americans getting a first dose of the vaccine has been declining for six weeks, plummeting more than 50 percent from about 480,000 in early August to below 230,000 by the middle of last week, according to the latest federal data available.
An estimated 70 million Americans eligible to vaccinate have yet to begin vaccinations, despite an increase in infections, hospitalizations, and summer deaths caused by the Delta variant.
This is the case despite a growing number of companies announcing vaccination requirements for their employees, including Google, McDonald’s, Microsoft, and Disney. Big cities like New York and San Francisco also require vaccinations in order to eat in restaurants or enter certain other stores.
Separately, on September 9, President Biden announced major new vaccine requirements for up to 100 million Americans. Employees at companies with more than 100 employees on their payroll must be vaccinated or undergo weekly tests. But the mandates have yet to come into force; the necessary regulations are still being worked out.
Allie French, of Omaha, Nebraska, said the switch to booster vaccinations only reinforced her firm belief that vaccinations are not necessary, especially for people who take care of themselves.
“It’s coming back to a mindset that you don’t have to hold hands in every situation,” said French, founder of a small advocacy group called Nebraskans Against Government Overreach.
Tara Dukart, a 40-year-old rancher from Hazen, North Dakota and a board member of Health Freedom North Dakota, an organization advocating for mask and vaccine mandates, said, “I think there is tremendous hesitation because of the why Take the third shot if the first two shots didn’t work? “
Scientists have stressed that the vaccine against serious illness and death from COVID-19 remains highly effective, noting that the unvaccinated accounts for the majority of dead and recently hospitalized people. However, experts have also seen signs that the vaccine’s protection may be weakening, and they want to pre-empt the problem.
Experts have long said that the key to ending the U.S. epidemic is to vaccinate the vast majority of the American public – maybe up to 90 percent. But of the more than 283 million Americans 12 and older who are eligible for vaccination, only about 65 percent – 184 million – are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, which means only about 55 percent of the US public is fully protected.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday that health officials have not lost sight of this issue. The booster effort “won’t distract us from our main focus – getting as many people as possible vaccinated with a primary series,” she said.
White House officials said they doubt the need for boosters is a real concern among the vast majority of the unvaccinated, who continued to refuse to get their vaccinations for a variety of reasons, including misinformation, despite nearly a year of data prove their life-saving potential.
They also argue that as the pool of unvaccinated Americans gradually shrinks, the number of new people being injected will decline. They say the latest numbers should not be read as a sign that mandates are not working, indicating that most companies have not yet implemented the Biden government’s vaccination-or-testing policy.
Indeed, despite the downward trends in vaccinations seen in the CDC data, there is evidence that employer mandates are already working. White House officials cited a number of success stories, including a surge in the percentage of vaccinated employees at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, United Airlines and the Department of Defense.
Noel Brewer, a professor of health behavior at the University of North Carolina, said the mandates are promising and there is good reason to be optimistic.
“I think we are going into a great vaccination season. Everything is fine, ”said Brewer, who advises the CDC and the World Health Organization on COVID-19 vaccination policy.
Last week the Food and Drug Administration and CDC approved booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine for tens of millions of Americans 65 years and older, health problems or jobs that put them at high risk. The additional dose would be given six months after the two-shot treatment.
Regulators have yet to address the issue of booster vaccinations for people who have received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
More than 400,000 Americans received boosters in drug stores over the weekend, and an additional 1 million have signed up for them, according to White House officials.
But some members of a panel of experts advising the CDC worried last week that the booster discussion was a distraction from the more urgent need to get more Americans vaccinated.
“We have a very effective vaccine, and it’s like saying, ‘It doesn’t work,'” said Dr. Pablo Sanchez from Ohio State University.
At that meeting, a CDC official presented unpublished data from a recent 1,000-person survey that suggested offering boosters would make 25 percent of unvaccinated Americans much less likely to get an injection. This week, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation of more than 1,500 adults found that 71 percent of those who were not vaccinated say the latest news about boosters is a sign that the vaccines are not working.
Some external experts saw this coming.
Dr. James Conway, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Wisconsin, said last week that if anti-vaccination campaigners “get the idea this will only last six, eight or ten months,” it may continue to be mad at them whole idea.
Meanwhile, the summer surge in the pandemic has shown signs of easing. The death toll is still high, averaging over 2,000 a day, but cases and hospital admissions are falling.
While any mitigation of the COVID-19 toll is welcome, it can also undermine health authorities’ efforts to make the unvaccinated feel a sense of urgency. This could be a difficult task even when cases exploded.
Dr. Alex Jahangir, director of trauma orthopedic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and head of a coronavirus task force in Nashville, Tennessee, recalled operating on an elderly man who was injured in a car wreck that summer. The man survived these injuries but died of COVID-19.
Jahangir said he was impressed with how the man’s family seemed to absorb the facts about the dangers of COVID-19 only at the very end.
“Only when they were negatively influenced did they seek the truth,” said Jahangir.
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