At 38.5% vaccinated, US may be running low on people eager for a shot


Masked crowds wait in cordoned lines.
Enlarge / Residents wear protective masks while waiting to be vaccinated at a West Virginia United Health System COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

The US logged another 4 million or so vaccinations Friday, bringing the total doses administered in the country over 200 million at the time of writing. Over 127 million adults—38.5 percent of the US population—have received at least one shot. Over 80 million adults—24 percent of the US population—are now fully vaccinated.

The seven-day rolling average of US vaccinations per day is now around 3.35 million, and the Biden administration is on track to make its latest goal of 200 million vaccinations within the first 100 days in office.

Even with a current pause in use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, Biden officials expect availability of vaccine to remain strong.

“Vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer are still widely available,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a White House COVID-19 press briefing Friday. “We continue to work with pharmacies, states, and FEMA to make sure the vaccine supply remains robust across the country as we approach April 19th, when all Americans above age 16 or 18—depending on the vaccine received—will be eligible for vaccination.”

Walensky and other officials stressed in the briefing how critical it is to keep up the pace of vaccinations. “Even as we accelerate our efforts to get shots in arms, more dangerous variants are growing, causing increases in cases with people without immunity,” Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser on the pandemic, said in the briefing. “This increases the urgency for you to get vaccinated.”

But the latest survey results and vaccination distribution data are pointing in the opposite direction. Together, they suggest that the US may be close to running out of people eager for their shot and that the robust pace of vaccination in the country may soon wane.

The latest data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s ongoing COVID-19 vaccine survey suggests that enthusiasm for vaccines continues to increase. In February, 55 percent of people said they had already gotten at least one dose or plan to get one as soon as possible. That figure rose to 61 percent in March. But the percentage of people saying they “definitely” will not get vaccinated has held fairly stable, currently standing around 13 percent. The fraction of people who say they’ll only get vaccinated if they’re required to do so has also stayed put at around 7 percent.

Worrying signs

The data further suggests that in some demographics and locations, the most eager have largely already gotten their vaccines.

By age group, the most enthusiastic to get vaccinated are those ages 65 and older. An impressive 81 percent of the 65+ groups reported they have either already gotten vaccinated or will soon. But most are already vaccinated. Sixty-four percent of the 65+ group reported that they have already gotten at least one shot. And just 17 percent say they’re still waiting to get one as soon as possible.

There’s less enthusiasm in the younger groups, suggesting demand will be slower for these groups. The least inclined demographic is the 18 to 29 age group, in which less than 50 percent said they have either already gotten vaccinated or will as soon as possible. And 15 percent of the groups said they were already vaccinated.

There’s a similar scenario building in rural areas. In the KFF survey, a total of 55 percent of rural residents said they have either already gotten vaccinated or will soon, with 39 percent of the group falling in the “already gotten” category. Only 31 percent of urban respondents said they had already received a vaccine, but an additional 35 percent said they planned to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“This suggests that vaccine uptake in rural communities is currently outpacing urban and suburban areas but may begin lagging behind more populated areas as they experience increased access,” KFF noted.

Uh-oh

The finding may be linked to a partisan divide. Rural areas often swing Republican, and Republicans have consistently been among the most resistant to vaccination across many surveys. In the latest KFF data, 29 percent of Republicans reported that they would “definitely not” get vaccinated.

An analysis released last week by Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit health-data organization, suggested that, given the lower enthusiasm of those not-yet vaccinated, vaccine uptake will slow beginning next month. The “supply-demand shift for the vaccine will happen earlier than expected—as early as the end of April,” the organization concluded.

“This analysis shows that despite the general vaccine enthusiasm we are seeing now in the United States, things are going to get really difficult really soon,” Surgo Ventures CEO Sema Sgaier said in a statement. “Without significant investment in addressing people’s barriers and making vaccines available to those below 18, reaching herd immunity will be a real challenge.”

Slowdowns

So far, some real-world data seems to be backing up the worries. An analysis by Bloomberg of vaccine distribution and administration in all 50 states suggests that some areas and states are seeing unused doses pile up. A band of states in the south—Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, among others—has consistently struggled to use its vaccine supplies. There are also states like West Virginia, which has seen use decline.

Early in the pandemic, West Virginia had been lauded for its fast and efficient vaccination rollout. Around February 19, it was logging that just about 7 percent of its vaccine supply had gone unused. Today, that figure is 26 percent.

Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID-19 vaccine czar, told Bloomberg that, in that time frame, vaccination efforts have shifted from focusing on older populations to people in their teens to mid-30s. “We’re seeing more incidents of more people needing more convincing or needing more time to make their decision,” Marsh said. ​​​​​​“We’re right on that interface of having more vaccine than arms to put them in.”

Similarly, officials with the Southern Nevada Health District announced Thursday that they, too, were having trouble keeping up the vaccination pace and would be shutting down a mass vaccination site on May 5.

“On Tuesday specifically, we did about 7,700 [vaccinations at the closing site], but today we’ll do roughly about 2,000, mostly second doses,” local official Greg Cassell said at a press briefing Thursday. “Numbers are falling off, and we’re looking at different options going forward of how we’re going to operate to continue to vaccinate the community.”

Cassell added that health officials are planning on setting up “strike teams” that will set up smaller vaccination sites at various locations to try to get 300 to 500 people vaccinated a day.



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