There have been over 61 million people fully vaccinated in the US so far, with rollout going more smoothly than expected. And while this has sparked hope across the country, experts are divided on what this means for our chances to escape a new wave of Covid.
In Europe, the new wave has already begun, with 1.6 million people infected across Europe’s 51 countries, just in the past week. This is very alarming, especially as Europe has served as a bellwether for us over this last year.
Also spurring fears in the US is the appearance of several new variants. One of the most tenacious strains is the B.1.1.7, known as the “UK variant,” which has been found up to 100% more infectious and 60% more severe than what we’ve been experiencing.
With over 12,000 known cases of the strain across the country, it is responsible for 13 percent of new cases in Florida and 9 percent of cases in New Jersey. We have been aware of the variant for months, but just recently there have been some worrying new findings about its effect on children. It infects those under 18 easily, and is currently spreading through newly opened classrooms.
Such is the case in Minnesota, with 750 schools reporting infections. This, coupled with the 8400 new cases reported in the state on April 4th, has lead renowned epidemiologist Dr. Osterholm to fear the worst. This is just the “beginning of this surge,” that will continue nationwide, he warned, urging the public to continue to take precautions.
Last week Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, echoed these fears of a fourth wave, reporting her “sense of impending doom,” as she noted the death toll in the US was back up to 1,000 daily cases.
Besides the variants themselves, however, easing restrictions are also to blame for the 16% increase we are seeing nationwide. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading figure in the pandemic response, has warned easing mask and travel mandates will inevitably threaten the tenuous hold we are gaining over the spread of the disease. This is troubling as 18 states no longer require masks, and a flood of visitors over spring break have left Florida as the state with the highest incidence of reported variants.
Despite his warnings, Fauci also came forward with some encouraging predictions about the possibility of a new wave. He reported over the Easter weekend that he did not believe the virus would be able to take hold on the scale it has in the past, namely because of the success we have achieved in vaccinating the public.
There has also been encouraging news from Pfizer last week, as a new study has shown that their vaccine is 100% effective in children aged 12-15, and that people with both shots are not susceptible to the B.1.1.7. strain. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also conducting studies of their own on that age group, which serves to counter the dire warnings about the UK strain’s effect on children.
The resounding message is that we still do not know if the vaccinations in this country are moving fast enough to counter a new wave. There are reasons for optimism, but the CDC is still recommending restrictions on travel and socializing for both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.