US Coronavirus: Covid-19 vaccines effective in preventing serious illness, experts say as increase in cases threatens the unvaccinated

Speaking to CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday, Dr Anthony Fauci said the vaccines have been shown to be “very effective in preventing symptomatic and clinically apparent illness.”

“When you start to see what are called breakthrough infections, if you look at them closely, the overwhelming majority of these are people who have no symptoms or only very mild symptoms,” Fauci said. “So vaccines are still very, very effective in preventing serious illness.”

The Delta variant has “almost gained the upper hand” in the United States, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and member of the Vaccine Advisory Board of the United States Food and Drug Administration . But it’s clear that the vaccines also work against the Delta variant, he said.

“Despite the rise of the Delta variant, 97% of people hospitalized or killed by this virus are still not vaccinated,” Offit said. “If the Delta variant essentially escaped vaccine-induced immunity, you should have seen an increase in the number of people vaccinated, but still hospitalized and killed. And that didn’t happen.”

Still, the rate of inoculations is slowing, with less than half of the U.S. population – 48.5 percent, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – fully vaccinated. And it is communities with low vaccination rates that are at risk.

Among states that have fully vaccinated less than half of their residents, the average rate of Covid-19 cases was 11 new cases per 100,000 people last week, compared to 4 per 100,000 among states that have fully vaccinated more half of their residents, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

“If you are not vaccinated, the risk is incredibly high – and perhaps in some areas higher than ever before,” said Dr Craig Spencer, director of global medical health. emergency at Columbia University Medical Center, adding that people are acting “a little more carefree and nonchalant”, increasing the chances of exposure.

Indeed, the number of people traveling by air set a record high in the era of the pandemic on Friday, with nearly 2.2 million people screened at U.S. airports, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration said, adding a warning: “#MaskUp.”

In the meantime, those vaccinated should “continue to be smart,” but they are very unlikely to fall ill, be hospitalized or die from Covid-19, Spencer said.

Immunization efforts turn to young people

Canada and the United States were neck and neck in early Saturday afternoon in the percentage of people fully vaccinated, according to data from country governments. So far, 18,286,671 Canadians, or 48.65%, have been fully immunized, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, compared to 160,994,035, or 48.5%, of Americans. according to CDC data.

In the United States, authorities are increasingly focusing on increasing vaccination rates among young people.

“Young people sometimes feel like they’re invulnerable. They need a little push, I would say, a little push – not force or threat, but to make them understand why this is important to their children. own safety, “Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Saturday. “Because we’re getting more and more infections with the Delta variant… we’re seeing more and more young people getting seriously ill.”

To that end, Fauci teamed up with 18-year-old pop star Olivia Rodrigo this week, appearing in a video released by the White House that encourages young people to get vaccinated.

“The sooner we all get vaccinated, the sooner we can, for example, go out with our friends and sing songs and all the fun stuff,” Rodrigo said.

Alabama health officials announced on Friday a TikTok competition aimed at increasing vaccination rates against Covid-19 in people aged 13 to 29. Participants are invited to submit a video that shows them getting vaccinated and a message explaining why they chose to do so. Four winners will be chosen to receive a $ 250 Visa gift card, officials said.

Darrell Hudson, principal of AH Parker High School in Birmingham, Alabama, said CNN school officials don’t know how many of their students are vaccinated and “some are still a little concerned about taking the vaccine and its content”. But he said he hoped the students will get vaccinated, along with their families, so they can safely return to class on August 2.

“We don’t want a child to come to our campus, take the virus home to parents, grandparents, aunts and loved ones,” Hudson said.

As for vaccines for even younger children, studies are continuing, Fauci told CNN.

“So far things look good, but the final decision will be with the FDA,” Fauci said. “And I imagine that probably won’t happen until we get into winter, towards the end of this year.”

Additionally, Fauci said he “would be amazed” if Pfizer / BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine did not receive full FDA approval for people 16 and older by the end of August (each vaccine available in the United States has been cleared for emergency use, but they have yet to be fully approved). The companies announced Friday that the FDA had granted priority review designation to their vaccine approval application.

“But even by then, people should realize that the data on the effectiveness and actual effectiveness of these vaccines is truly extraordinary – not only in the United States, but in several countries around the world,” said Fauci.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the worst”

Local authorities continue to sound the alarm bells on the increase in cases, especially among the unvaccinated. Twenty states have fully immunized more than half of their residents, according to the CDC, but health facility resources are depleted in states with fewer immunizations.

Only a quarter of residents of Mobile County, Alabama, are fully vaccinated, Commissioner Merceria Ludgood said at a press conference on Friday. And now the county is seeing a massive increase in hospitalizations, according to Dr Laura Cepeda, chief medical officer of the Mobile County Department of Health, who said there had been a 400% increase in hospitalizations over the course of the year. last month.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson encouraged those who have been vaccinated to speak with their loved ones and neighbors.

“Today we have sports heroes, we have rock stars, we have movie stars, coaches encouraging people all over the country to get vaccinated,” Stimpson said. “But if you’ve been vaccinated, don’t underestimate your ability to contact someone and encourage them to do so. You can be that person to convince them it’s the right thing to do.”

People line up for the vaccine at Mother's Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri on June 22, 2021.

Katie Towns, acting director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in Missouri, told CNN on Friday that the department is requesting an alternative care site and staff from the state to deal with the growing number of cases and Covid-19 hospitalizations, saying: “This is at a level we have never seen before”,

“The most striking are the demographics and the age,” she said of the Covid-19 patients, “almost all” unvaccinated. “The disease has really gone from an older population… to 20, 30, 40 years in hospital and in need of intensive care and oxygen.”

And hospitals and health officials are forecasting an increase in the number after the July 4 vacation.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the worst,” Towns said.

The return of the mask directives

But even in areas with higher vaccination rates, authorities are starting to reinstate security protocols like mask warrants to try to curb the spread.

San Francisco Bay Area health officials announced on Friday that they recommend that everyone wear masks indoors.

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And Los Angeles County will reinstate its indoor mask mandate on Saturday night for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. The county public health department reported 1,827 new cases on Saturday, a fourfold increase from the number of cases reported on July 4.

George Metsos, owner of Patys Restaurant in Los Angeles, told CNN the mask mandates are confusing and the changing guidelines aren’t helping.

“They say follow the science. Well, they said don’t wear masks if you are vaccinated. Now put on the mask if you are vaccinated,” Metsos said. “I have to protect my customers, I have to protect my employees and I have to follow the rules, but I am very in touch with the American public: they are very frustrated.”

Amid growing concern, local authorities “have the discretion to go the extra mile or go the extra step necessary to ensure the spread of this virus is truly contained,” Fauci told Nightly News with Lester Holt ”from NBC. “And they do it by saying that everyone should wear a mask.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about the number and percentage of Canadians fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Jen Christensen, Jacqueline Howard, Laine Mackey, Deidre McPhillips, Leyla Santiago and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.

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