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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."

Go deeper

Sep 29, 2021 - Health

CDC issues urgent advisory calling on pregnant people to get COVID vaccine

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

The CDC issued "an urgent health advisory" on Wednesday urging people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Why it matters: The CDC said it "strongly recommends" vaccination because its benefits for a pregnant person and the fetus outweigh the risks. It added that pregnant people with COVID-19 are at "increased risk" of outcomes such as preterm birth, stillbirth and admission of a newborn into the ICU.

AT&T mandates COVID vaccination for most unionized workers

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

AT&T expanded its COVID-19 vaccine mandate Wednesday to employees who are members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union.

Why it matters: The communications giant is one of the biggest employers in the U.S. to require frontline workers to be vaccinated against the virus. The union said it represents some 90,000 AT&T workers, per AP.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

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