The United States has finally reached President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into 70 per cent of American adults — a month late and amid a fierce surge by the Delta variant that is swamping hospitals and leading to new mask rules and mandatory vaccinations around the country.
Biden had set a vaccination goal of 70 per cent by July 4. That figure was the low end of initial government estimates for what would be necessary to achieve herd immunity in the US.
But that has been rendered insufficient by the highly contagious Delta variant, which has enabled the virus to come storming back.
There was was no celebration at the White House on Monday, nor a setting of a new target, as the administration instead struggles to overcome scepticism and outright hostility to the vaccine, especially in the South and other rural and conservative areas.
The US still has not hit the administration’s other goal of fully vaccinating 165 million American adults by July 4. It is about 8.5 million short.
New cases per day in the US have increased sixfold over the past month to an average of nearly 80,000, a level not seen since mid-February. And deaths per day have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 259 to 360.
Those are still well below the 3400 deaths and 250,000 cases per day seen during the worst of the outbreak, in January.
But some places around the country are watching caseloads reach their highest levels since the pandemic began. And nearly all deaths and serious illnesses now are in unvaccinated people.
The surge has led states and cities to beat a retreat, just weeks after it looked as if the country was going to see a close-to-normal summer.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a nationwide vaccination requirement “is not on the table,” but noted that employers have the right to take such a step.
The US Senate saw its first disclosed breakthrough case of the virus, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina saying he has mild symptoms.
While setting a national vaccination goal may have been useful for trying to drum up enthusiasm for the shots, 70 per cent of Americans getting one shot was never going to be enough to prevent surges among unvaccinated groups. And when he announced the goal, Biden acknowledged it was just a first step.
It’s the level of vaccinations in a community – not a broad national average – that can slow an outbreak or allow it to flourish.
Vaccination rates in some Southern states are far lower than they are New England. Vermont has fully inoculated nearly 78 per cent of its adult population. Alabama has just cracked 43 per cent.