By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters
MONDAY, March 15, 2021 (HealthDay News)
More than 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have now been delivered into the arms of American adults, new government data shows.
As of Monday, more than 37.4 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, 11.3% of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, over 107 million, 21% of the total population, have gotten at least one dose. Just over one-third of Americans age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, the agency reported.
Since the country’s vaccine rollout began on Dec. 14, there have been more doses administered in the United States than any other country in the world, according to figures collected by Johns Hopkins University. Still, several smaller nations have vaccinated a higher proportion of their populations, CBS News reported.
While some other countries have struggled to secure doses, feuding over prices and exports, the United States should have enough COVID-19 vaccine to immunize the nation’s entire adult population by the summer, with enough left over for some 172 million more people, CBS News reported.
The Biden administration now predicts it will have enough doses available for every adult by May. Clinical trials in teens and children could clear the way for some shots for adolescents by the fall and younger children in early 2022, CBS News reported.
Even so, the vast majority of the U.S. population has yet to be fully vaccinated, as highly contagious variants take root across the country.
The nationwide pace of vaccinations has quickened to an average of over 2 million doses a day. State and federal officials say a coming surge in supply will alleviate the largest obstacle to expanding the campaign.
Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines require two doses, say they plan to supply a combined 600 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccines through July, enough to immunize 300 million people. The companies have so far delivered nearly a third of their orders to the U.S. government, with a total of 400 million doses from both promised by the end of May, CBS News reported.
Not only that, the Biden administration has brokered a deal that will have pharmaceutical giant Merck produce millions of doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will rapidly boost supply. Last week, Biden announced the purchase of another 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. And millions more doses from other drugmakers may soon be added to the looming surplus of shots, as companies await results of trials from their own vaccine candidates, CBS News reported.
“The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we’re going to overcome this virus and get back to our loved ones, get our economy back on track, and start to move back to normal,” Biden said after announcing news of Johnson & Johnson’s deal with Merck.
Nursing home residents can hug their loved ones again
After nearly a year of painful isolation, the U.S. government said last week that vaccinated nursing home residents can hug their loved ones again and enjoy more indoor visits.
The new guidance, issued by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), comes after coronavirus cases and deaths among nursing home residents have plummeted in recent weeks as the country’s vaccination rollout accelerated.
“Now that millions of vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly, CMS is updating its visitation guidance to bring more families together safely,” Dr. Lee Fleisher, chief medical officer at the CMS, said in a statement.
Nursing homes have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s pain, representing about 1% of the U.S. population but accounting for 1 in 3 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
But coronavirus hasn’t been the only thing this vulnerable population has suffered through: Loneliness and isolation have contributed to physical and mental declines, officials say.
“There is no substitute for physical contact, such as the warm embrace between a resident and their loved one,” the CMS stated in its new guidance, “Therefore, if the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact [including touch] with their visitor while wearing a well-fitting face mask and performing hand hygiene before and after.”
The CMS also said that maintaining 6 feet of separation is still the safest policy, and outdoor visits are preferable e
“All of us feel enormous relief that we are at this next juncture and feel confident that reopening visitation can be achieved safely, given all we have learned during the pandemic,” Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which works to improve care for older adults, told the Associated Press. “A great deal more has been learned about infection control, and families and facilities are ready.”
Under the new guidance, homes in counties with high rates of COVID-19 can still have indoor visits, provided they take precautions. When an outbreak occurs at a facility, it doesn’t have to go on lockdown for 14 days. Visits can still happen as long as the outbreak is isolated to an area or unit of the facility. Compassionate care visits should be allowed at all times, the guidance said, even if there’s an outbreak or a resident is unvaccinated.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit facilities, told the AP. “Federal policy now reflects the real progress that has been made in vaccinating nursing home residents and staff.”
New guidance gives vaccinated Americans more freedom
New social distancing guidance released by the federal government last week gives fully vaccinated Americans more freedom to socialize and move through their communities.
The CDC said people who are two weeks past their final shot can safely visit indoors with unvaccinated members of a single household at low risk of severe disease without wearing masks or social distancing. That recommendation would free many vaccinated grandparents who live near their unvaccinated children and grandchildren to gather for the first time since the pandemic began a year ago.
The CDC also said fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with those who are also fully vaccinated, and they do not need to be quarantined or tested after exposure to COVID-19.
“We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in an agency news release. “There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in their own homes. Everyone – even those who are vaccinated – should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings.”
Some restrictions were still advised, even for the vaccinated. For example, if a vaccinated person lives in a group setting and is around someone with COVID-19, he or she should still stay away from others for 14 days and get tested, even without symptoms.
Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, welcomed the new guidelines, but added they have been too long in coming.
“The sooner we move to telling people if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to wear masks — that will be an incentive for people to get vaccinated,” Hotez told the Washington Post.
The level of caution people need to exercise should be determined by the characteristics of those who are unvaccinated in a social setting, the CDC said.
For instance, if a fully vaccinated person visits an unvaccinated friend who is 70, and therefore at risk of severe disease, the visit should take place outdoors, with masks and physical distancing, the guidance says.
A global scourge
By Monday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 29.4 million while the death toll passed 534,000, according to a New York Times tally. On Monday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with over 3.6 million cases; Texas with more than 2.7 million cases; Florida with over 1.9 million cases; New York with more than 1.7 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.2 million cases.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
In Brazil, the coronavirus case count was nearly 11.5 million by Monday, with over 278,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. India had nearly 11.4 million cases and nearly 159,000 deaths as of Monday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 119.9 million on Monday, with more than 2.6 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
SOURCES: CBS News, Associated Press; The New York Times
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