Apr 5, 2021 - Health

Vaccines may limit the damage from coronavirus variants

Illustration of a person staring into the light at the end of a tunnel, the light is in the shape of a coronavirus cell.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Many public health experts are optimistic that the fourth wave of the coronavirus that the U.S. has entered won't be as bad as the other three — but emphasize that it will still be important to take precautions.

Why it matters: A more transmissible, deadlier variant of the virus the one that originated in the U.K. — is becoming increasingly prevalent across the country, but the U.S.'s extraordinary vaccination effort may blunt the worst effects of this most recent wave of cases.

Driving the news: The U.S. reported over the weekend that more than 4 million doses had been administered in a day for the first time.

  • More than 3 million vaccines have been administered each day, on average, over the last week, per Bloomberg.
  • Three-quarters of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.

What they're saying: "It's kind of like a race between the potential for a surge and our ability to vaccinate as many people as we possibly can," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told NPR's Morning Edition on Friday. "And hopefully, if you want to make this a metaphorical race, the vaccine is going to win this one."

  • “I think that there’s enough immunity in the population that you’re not going to see a true fourth wave of infection,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation." “What we’re seeing is pockets of infection around the country."
  • "The B.1.1.7 variant is almost a new virus. It's acting differently from anything we've seen before in terms of transmissibility and in terms of affecting young people. The good news is all the vaccines seem to work just as well against it," Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine told CNN.

Yes, but: Experts warn that a victory over the variants is dependent on Americans maintaining precautions, like mask wearing and social distancing, while the vaccination effort continues.

  • Some states' rollback of mitigation measures is working with the rise of the variant that originated in the U.K. to cause the recent spike in cases, Fauci said. "The one thing we don't want to do is pull back prematurely."
  • And in some hot spots, like Michigan, hospitalizations are rising — evidence that not everyone vulnerable to severe infections has yet been vaccinated as the virus gains steam.

Some experts are outright pessimistic. “In terms of the United States, we’re just at the beginning of this surge,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told NBC’s “Meet the Press."

The bottom line: "We’ve prematurely pulled back from some mitigation like masks. We’re near a vaccine inflection point, but not quite there yet," Gottlieb tweeted.

  • "Variants and surges probably delayed a return to more normalcy, but hasn’t foreclosed that opportunity. Better days are ahead."
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