More Americans are now getting vaccinated against coronavirus in the areas worst hit by the virulent delta variant, a potentially hopeful sign as cases continue to soar, public health experts said Thursday.
President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 czar Jeff Zients said more people in the five states with the highest infection rates — Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri — are now getting vaccinated on a daily basis than the national average.
“People are feeling the impact of being unvaccinated and taking action,” Zients said at a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force. “Each shot matters each person is a step toward putting this pandemic behind us.”
Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a pro-Trump stalwart who had refused to get a vaccine until now, got his first vaccine shot last weekend in a sign that fear of illness might be overcoming politically motivated resistance.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky suggested that the efforts of public figures could be a game changer.
“Maybe you’re seeing some of your local officials stepping forward,” Walensky said.
Florida alone accounts for 20% of the cases nationwide, and Missouri and Texas account for another 20%, Zients said.
Almost all the serious cases, including 97% of those hospitalized and 99.5% of deaths, are among unvaccinated people.
“Almost every death from COVID-19 is a preventable tragedy,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said.
The public health experts spoke as the delta variant continues to race across the country, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
About 56,000 new infections were reported nationwide on Wednesday, an increase of nearly 50% compared with just last week. Hospitalizations and deaths are also on the rise, albeit at a slower pace.
New York reported another 1,584 new cases on Wednesday and recorded a 1.50% seven-day positivity average. According to the CDC, 54.8% of all eligible New Yorkers over 12 are fully vaccinated.
“COVID, especially the Delta variant, poses a great risk to those who remain unvaccinated,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Get your vaccine before it’s too late.”
All the numbers in the Empire State are far lower than the peaks during previous surges, but they are also increasing quickly.
The doctors danced around questions about whether it might eventually be necessary to impose new mask mandates if the delta variant keeps spreading.
They insisted that the vaccines alone protect well against the virus and the main problem is with unvaccinated people, who may also refuse to wear masks.
Walensky said the CDC would leave it up to local officials to take more stringent actions if needed.
“We are always looking at the data as it comes in,” Walensky said. “Local communities have to look at what is happening locally.”