The numbers of new cases and deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to decline, but this health crisis is by no means over.
The progress that has been made in “turning the corner” is undoubtedly due to vaccination rates. Experts have stated that the critical element to ending the pandemic is the achievement of “herd immunity.” This is when 75 to 80 percent of the population has achieved immunity so that new viral infections essentially have nowhere to go, causing new infections and severe illness to disappear.
One of the earliest priorities set by President Biden’s administration was to ensure 70 percent of Americans receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4. As of Memorial Day, nearly 60 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have received at least one dose, putting the nation on track to achieving this goal.
More importantly, the United States achieved a milestone of 50 percent of adults having been fully vaccinated. This falls far short of the 75-80 percent required to achieve herd immunity, however.
Twenty-five states have reported vaccinating at least 50 percent of their populations with at least one dose, while nine states have achieved the goal of at least 70 percent receiving at least one dose.
Unfortunately, this rate is just below 50 percent in the state of Florida where vulnerability to COVID-19 is still classified as “very high” by experts with a positive test rate of 4.8 percent compared to only 0.9 percent in the state of California.
Recently, the CDC issued an update relaxing most masking and social distancing guidelines for the fully vaccinated. The guidelines for those who are not fully vaccinated have not changed.
The CDC continues to issue the strongest recommendation for all eligible yet unvaccinated persons to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Many questions have arisen regarding “breakthrough infections” where people have contracted the Coronavirus and developed COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. This has been reported to occur in 0.01 percent or 1 in 10,000 people, but most are protected from severe illness with dramatically reduced rates of infection, transmission and the development of severe illness and death due to COVID-19.
It remains important to understand the obstacles to reaching the stated vaccine goals. It has been reported that working class people without a college degree are most likely to not be vaccinated. Issues of access as well as difficulty with securing time off from work are cited as possible reasons.
Sports venues and airports have begun to offer vaccinations. Many states have established lotteries that offer cash prizes to adults and opportunities to win scholarships for those under 18 years of age in order to encourage those yet unvaccinated to obtain their doses.
Life after the COVID-19 pandemic is slowly becoming a reality. However, in order to fully return to normal, vaccination rates must improve.
Dr. William Alexis is chief of Internal Medicine and Cardiology at Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines.
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