President Joe Biden predicted a return to some normalcy “by the end of the summer” on Monday, but health experts are increasingly doubtful that the United States will reach herd immunity from Covid-19.
America’s outlook is rosier now than it has been in months; daily coronavirus cases and deaths have fallen to one-fifth of what they were during winter peaks thanks to climbing vaccinations. So far, more than 40% of the adult population and nearly 70% of the senior population are fully vaccinated, according to new CDC data.
Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci have estimated between 70% to 85% of the US population needs to be immune to the virus — through vaccination or previous infection — for herd immunity to be reached. He said in March that might happen when high school students are vaccinated.
The US is one step closer to that. A federal government official told CNN the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to authorize Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine for children and teens aged 12 to 15 by early next week.
But the average daily rate of vaccinations has been declining for about two weeks, and polls show younger Americans are least likely to say they want a shot, Ralph Ellis and Christina Maxouris report. This is worrying because unvaccinated young people are helping fuel case increases across the US.
“What I really worry about is that those people who are already on the fence don’t get vaccinated (and) we don’t reach herd immunity come the fall,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen told CNN. “And then with the winter … we have a big resurgence, maybe we have variants coming in from other countries, and we could start this whole process all over again and have another huge pandemic come the winter.”
It is not all doom and gloom. Some experts think driving down infections will be good enough, allowing most people to get back to their pre-pandemic lives as long as case numbers continue to plummet.
“We may not get to zero, we probably won’t,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Health, told CNN on Monday. “But if we can get the infections at very low levels, most of us can get back to our lives in normal ways. I think we can probably live with that,” he added.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: Can new or future variants ruin herd immunity?
A: Here’s the good news: All three vaccines currently used in the US give strong protection against known variant strains of the coronavirus.
But as the virus keeps spreading and replicating in new people, it has more opportunities to mutate. And if there are significant mutations, new and more dangerous variants could emerge. The key is to quash the amount of virus circulating, so it has fewer chances to mutate and cause more infectious or deadlier variants.
That’s why getting vaccinated and continuing to wear masks are so important, experts say.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
More Covid cases in last two weeks than first six months of pandemic
There were more reported cases of the virus in the past two weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said on Monday. India and Brazil accounted for more than half of last week’s cases.
This comes as the burden of Covid-19 has shifted to poorer nations. India surpassed 20 million official cases on Tuesday (though the real total is believed to be much higher,) while neighboring Nepal has seen a more than 1,200% increase in average Covid-19 cases since mid-April. Nepal’s prime minister pleaded for more international help on Monday, saying “we are living in an interconnected and interlinked world, [a] pandemic like this spares no one and no one is safe.”
Meanwhile, the FDA’s Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock warned the continuing spread of the Covid-19 would fuel the rise of more variants as the world turns into “a giant petri dish” for the virus.
Covid-19 caused one in three deaths in Brazil so far this year
A third of all people who’ve died in Brazil in 2021 were victims of Covid-19, Rodrigo Pedroso and Caitlin Hu report. According to official data, 615,329 deaths were reported in the country between January 1 and April 30. Of those, 208,370 were related to Covid-19, according to Brazil’s health ministry — 33.9% of the nation’s total.
The virus has surged with a vengeance in the South American giant in recent months — fueled in part by a disregard for social distancing precautions and the emergence of extra-contagious new variants — and has claimed more lives in the past four months than in all of 2020. And despite Brazil’s robust immunization program, its rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has been slow. So far, less than 10% of the population has been vaccinated.
Europe plans a summer reopening
After nearly a year of closed borders, the European Union could open in June to fully vaccinated vacationers from countries with low infection rates in time for summer under a plan revealed on Monday, James Frater reports.
Officials hope the plan — which will be discussed by ambassadors of European countries tomorrow — could be implemented by the end of June. The proposals, published by the European Commission, advised that arrivals must have been inoculated 14 days before arrival with a vaccine from its approved list, including BioNTech/Pfizer, Oxford University/AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
Decisions about borders can only be made by individual countries, so each member state will decide whether to implement these proposals or not.
ON OUR RADAR
- World No. 1 Novak Djokovic says he hopes Covid-19 vaccines will not be mandatory for tennis players on tour, while refusing to reveal whether he would get a vaccine in the future. The Serbian has previously said he would oppose compulsory vaccination but has since said he would wait for more clarification from the tennis governing body.
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that subway service in New York City will return to a 24/7 schedule on May 17 as the state and neighbors New Jersey and Connecticut open up their economies
- Americans are not getting the mental health assistance they need during the pandemic, according to a report, which found this to be especially true for the youngest, oldest and most impoverished.
- America’s parents — mothers in particular — have been hit hard by the pandemic. But the vaccine rollout and Washington’s promises to spend big on child care could help moms get back to work.
TODAY’S TOP TIP
Teen stress has been heightened by the pandemic
“Many teens I work with deal with a nearly crippling social anxiety, either from a lack of practice after a year with precious little time with friends, or because of overall social insecurity,” writes psychologist John Duffy.
“Some also feel a sense of desperation, depression and anxiety they have never experienced before, always having considered themselves positive, upbeat people. Several of my clients are now taking medication to balance their moods,” he added.
“Our new show is a place where we can all reflect on how the pandemic has changed us and what steps we want to take to move forward, together.” — Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
For the first time in more than a year, many of us are imagining the next chapter of our lives. Gupta is on a mission to help us approach our new normal mindfully in his new podcast “Chasing Life,” which starts May 11. LISTEN TO THE TRAILER.