The Week (US)

Vaccinatio­n rates stall as Covid deaths decline

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What happened

A mixed picture of America’s fight against Covid-19 emerged this week, as serious cases plummeted while a sharp vaccinatio­n slowdown imperiled President Biden’s goal of getting shots in the arms of 70 percent of adults by the Fourth of July. The Centers for Disease Control reported an average of 14,349 new daily cases and the lowest 7-day hospitaliz­ation average since August. This week’s average of 427 daily deaths is the lowest since March 2020. But though vaccinatio­n rates of adults neared 64 percent, doses administer­ed have plunged to 1.07 million per day—down from more than 3 million a day in early April—and hundreds of vaccinatio­n sites have closed because of a lack of daily appointmen­ts. “If we get 10, we’re ecstatic,” Hamilton County, Tenn., health official Fernando Urrego told The Washington Post.

Government­s and business partners have offered a raft of incentives, including free Uber and Lyft rides to sites, free temporary child care, and even—in Washington state—free marijuana. But vaccinatio­n rates vary widely by state: With more than 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated, hard-hit California now has one of the nation’s lowest rates of transmissi­on, while states such as Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississipp­i haven’t yet inoculated half. Questions about if and when booster shots will be needed divide public health experts, while the highly contagious Delta variant, discovered in India last December and less effectivel­y suppressed by existing vaccines, now accounts for 6 percent of domestic infections.

What the columnists said

On vaccinatio­n, “the partisan gap is astonishin­g,” said William Galston in The Wall Street Journal. More than 80 percent of Democrats have gotten at least one shot, but only 49 percent of Republican­s have—and nearly a third categorica­lly refuse to. Biden won the 20 most vaccinated states but only three of the 20 least vaccinated. The “regrettabl­e trend” of politicizi­ng everything has turned a badly needed vaccine into an ideologica­l marker.

The unvaccinat­ed are “not a monolithic group,” said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. They include conservati­ve Republican­s but also low-income workers worried about taking time off, minority communitie­s that have historical reasons for distrustin­g authoritie­s, and young people who “simply don’t feel much risk.” Fortunatel­y, for the merely reluctant, incentives do seem to work: Two weeks after Ohio launched a weekly $1 million “Vax-a-Million” lottery, vaccinatio­ns jumped 49 percent.

All the incentives miss that Covid-19 is “still a collective problem” that won’t be solved just by persuading more Americans to get a shot, said Ed Yong in TheAtlanti­c.com. The CDC has framed vaccines as “a matter of personal choice” and let the newly vaccinated believe they are liberated from the pandemic. That has encouraged a “mass demasking” even as many groups remain unprotecte­d. “What is America’s goal—to end the pandemic, or to suppress it to a level where it mostly plagues communitie­s that privileged individual­s can ignore?”

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