By Nolan Page
The rate at which the United States is administering vaccines for COVID-19 is slowing down. In the initial rollout of vaccines, the US was fairly impressive. Since public vaccinations began, the United States was leading ahead of places like Canada. However, as of May 20, Canada surpassed the United States in the proportion of its population that has received at least one dose according to Our World in Data. and that difference is only expected to grow.
With the United States quick vaccine distribution previously being so praised, it raises the question: Why is it slowing down? The most obvious answer would be a lack of supply, but this is not the case as the United States has already purchased more than enough vaccines to fully vaccinate its population and has even begun to export its excess vaccines with Biden promising 80 million doses.
According to the New York Times, vaccination rates reached a peak on April 13 and the distribution has been slowing ever since. This timeframe coincides exactly with the pause of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The next day on April 14, the government paused distribution of this vaccine due to concerns over it causing blood clots in certain people. To many, this seemed like an admittance that COVID-19 vaccines have not been sufficiently tested, and it is likely that it acted as a deterrent for people who may have considered getting the vaccine before, contributing to the vaccination slowing along with the slow caused by the vaccine’s unavailability for the next eleven days. The exact effect this had on many people’s willingness to get vaccinated is difficult to measure, but according to Josh Geballe, the Chief Operating Officer of Connecticut where the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine was very popular, “It surely didn’t help.”
Naturally, another contributing factor to the slowing of vaccinations after April 13 was that many of the people who were enthusiastic about getting their vaccines had already done so, leaving most of the unvaccinated adult population who needed to be convinced. The number of people who are skeptical about the vaccine is still in decline though, according to the Washington Post, despite the slowdown in vaccinations.
A survey by the Covid States Project found that only 18% of people are in direct opposition to getting a COVID vaccine. With just about 48% of the US population being unvaccinated as of May 25, this shows that an anti vaccination movement is not behind a pushback against the vaccine rollout. The big struggle for the United States will be to motivate people who are unsure, uncaring, or too busy. Many, like Vox, have advocated for increased accessibility in order to combat this.
This slowdown means that we are likely not going to reach herd immunity projections of around 70-90% that were thrown around earlier in the year. In combination with the fact that experts now estimate these thresholds to be even higher due to how transmissible new variants of the coronavirus are, the US will not be reaching herd immunity anytime soon. The focus of the US vaccine campaign is to mitigate damage on an individual level with vaccinations.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president, said this on the matter: “People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is. That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense. I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.”
Due to vaccination slowdowns and the general impossibility of herd immunity, the pandemic is not going to be over in the United States anytime soon. However, with recent announcements from the CDC that vaccinated people do not have to wear masks or practice social distancing in most cases, many will be settling into some sense of normalcy.