US promises to vaccinate everybody by June, but vaccine hesitancy might prevent reaching herd immunity soon

Following the news of President Biden’s announcement that the US will have enough COVID-19 vaccine supply for all US-Americans by the end of May;

Philipp Rosenbaum, PhD, Senior Healthcare Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:

“Getting every US-American adult vaccinated by the May will require a big effort from the already exhausted healthcare system, in addition to motivating people to receive the vaccine. With increases in vaccine production from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, a newly authorized vaccine from Johnson and Johnson, and a manufacturing partnership between J&J and Merck&Co, confidence in reaching the goal is high.

“However, not every US-American wants to get vaccinated, and although the willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine has increased since last year, as available vaccines have been shown to be overwhelmingly safe and well tolerated, recent polls show that still only around 70% of US-Americans want to get vaccinated. The percentage of vaccinated people to reach herd immunity is still unclear and debated but is likely to be around 70% of the population. In some US states, vaccination uptake will be even lower than 70%, potentially leaving enough people vulnerable and preventing the stop of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Additionally, those who are vaccine-hesitant could serve as reservoirs for emerging strains of SARS-CoV-2, and potentially posing a risk to vaccinated people if current vaccines are less protective against these variants.

“A further bump on the road to herd immunity will be unvaccinated children, since no COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for people below 16 years of age. Pediatric vaccine trials investigating the safety and efficacy of currently authorized vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are ongoing, but it will likely take several months until data is available. Although COVID-19 is mostly asymptomatic or mild in children, how much of an impact children have as vectors of SARS-CoV-2 is still hotly debated.

“Other roadblocks like manufacturing shortfalls, unexpected scaling-up problems, or raw material shortages could lead to further delays in reaching the goal of 300 million vaccine doses by the end of May. Recent vaccine supply shortages of Pfizer/BioNTech’s and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines were due to ramping up production and upgrading existing facilities and were mainly affecting the vaccine supply in Europe. But an increasing gap between vaccination progress in the US, Europe, and the rest of the world might increase the pressure on the US government and vaccine manufactures to distribute COVID-19 vaccines more equally.

“All these obstacles considered, maybe not all US-American adults will be vaccinated by the end of May; however, ongoing vaccination of people at high-risk of disease, such as the elderly and people with comorbidities, will help to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, deaths and hospitalization. Furthermore, vaccinating healthcare and essential workers, teachers and other groups that have frequent contact with many people will help reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system and the economy in general. To reach a high level of COVID-19 vaccination, more outreach and awareness campaigns are needed to reach the population segments that remain sceptical of COVID-19 vaccines by the time everybody who wants the vaccine has received it.”

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