At least 70% of adults in the US have now received at least one Covid-19 vaccination shot, the White House announced on Monday, reaching a target Joe Biden originally said he had hoped to achieve by 4 July.
The administration reported the news in a tweet hailing “Milestone Monday” by Cyrus Shahpar, the government’s Covid-19 data director, who said the seven-day average of people receiving their first dose – 320,000 – was the highest since the Independence Day holiday.
Health and government officials have in recent days painted the resurgence of coronavirus as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, highlighting that areas of the country with the most spread were those with lower than average vaccination rates, and almost all hospitalizations and deaths are now among those declining to be vaccinated.
“Communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said, noting that “breakthrough” infections in vaccinated people were rare.
But with unvaccinated people increasingly at risk, Walensky said at the White House coronavirus team briefing on Monday: “While we desperately want to be done with this pandemic, Covid-19 is clearly not done with us, and so our battle must last a little longer.”
The US is seeing an average of 72,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day, higher than last summer’s surge, when vaccines were still in development and new daily cases reached 68,700, according to the CDC. Cases remain a lot lower than the pandemic peak of early January 2021, which saw more than 250,000 new cases a day as vaccines were starting to become more widely available.
On Monday, a state-by-state study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that less than 1% of fully vaccinated people experienced a breakthrough infection, ranging from 0.01% in Connecticut to 0.9% in Oklahoma.
Additionally, more than 90% of all cases, and more than 95% that resulted in hospitalizations or deaths, were among unvaccinated people, the study found.
Figures published by the CDC on Monday added that 49.7% of the US population who were eligible were now fully vaccinated, and that demand for the shots had increased by 28% from a week ago to reach a new daily average of 673,185 vaccinations administered.
A senior Biden administration official said on Friday that the White House was frustrated by what it saw as “alarmist” reporting by some media outlets over the Delta variant, and was worried that coverage of rare breakthrough cases could lead to more vaccine hesitancy.
The president had said he wanted the country to reach 70% at least partially vaccinated by the early July holiday, but the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, admitted in June that the country would need “a few extra weeks” because of reluctance by those aged 18 to 26 to get a shot.
The pandemic, meanwhile, continued to bite around the US on Monday.
In Florida, the nation’s current Covid-19 hotspot, which accounts for one on five new cases, hospitals are experiencing what one official described as a “horrifying” surge in younger patients. That included many under 12, too young to be eligible for the vaccine, and teenagers who are eligible but have chosen not to take it.
The rise in pediatric hospitalizations came as the state continues to lead the nation in new infections, having set records over the weekend for both the highest number of daily cases and hospital admissions since the pandemic hit the US in January 2020.
It was also alarming education chiefs, including the superintendent of the country’s fourth largest school district, Miami-Dade, who is considering defying a ban on mask mandates imposed by Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, last week.
Schools in the county return from the summer break on 23 August and Alberto Carvalho said his district would “follow the science” in determining whether to require staff and students to wear masks.
“We have been a district that’s well informed by science, by medical experts and public health experts and that will not change,” the superintendent told the Miami Herald’s editorial board. The district’s advisers include Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, who graduated high school in Miami.
Pediatric hospitals are reporting higher numbers of admissions as the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 spreads, according to the Florida Hospital Association (FHA).
“What you heard last spring about this virus mostly targeting seniors and those with pre-existing conditions is not true today,” said Mary Mayhew, the group’s president and chief executive.
“The virus has a new target, the unvaccinated and younger people. Previously healthy people from their teens to their 40s are now finding themselves in the hospital and on a ventilator.”
The mayor of Broward county, Steve Geller, said on Monday that the sharp rise in cases and hospital admissions was worrying.
“Unfortunately, Dade and Broward counties lead the nation in hospitalizations. The numbers are doubling every 10 or 11 days, this is horrifying,” he told Miami’s ABC News affiliate.
At least 33 hospitals in Florida reported “critical staffing shortages” on Monday, the Associated Press reported, with Miami’s Jackson Memorial hospital adding 58 intensive care beds to cope with the Covid-19 surge.
The US Department of Health and Human Services said 10,389 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Florida on Monday. Several counties said they were adding testing sites.
Other states, especially Mississippi and Louisiana, were also reporting upswings in cases and hospital admissions.
Lauren Aratani contributed reporting