Efforts to get more Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 are growing more urgent as an expert warns that if vaccination rates don’t increase, the dangerous Delta variant could continue to evolve.
“The next variant is just around the corner, if we do not all get vaccinated,” Adm. Brett Giroir, the former coronavirus testing czar under Pres. Trump, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
“I just beg the American people to understand that to defeat this virus, we have to get everybody’s level of immunity up, and that’s just the way it is,” he added.
Currently, only about 49.8% of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And with so many still lacking adequate protection, cases are on the rise.
In the coming weeks, surges will likely reach all across the US, not just areas with low vaccination rates, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said Wednesday. The outbreaks, however, will not be as explosive in areas with higher vaccination coverage, Frieden added.
As cases increase, hospitalizations and deaths will likely rise as well, according to ensemble forecasts published Wednesday by the CDC. The forecast predicts a total of 624,000 to 642,000 deaths will be reported by August 28. As of Wednesday, there have been 614,342 Covid-19 deaths in the US, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
If you’re not protected against Covid-19, the virus will likely infect you, Michael Osterholm, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN’s Pamela Brown Wednesday.
“This virus is highly infectious. If you decide to try to run the game clock out, don’t try to do it. This virus will find you, it will infect you eventually,” Osterholm, said
Fortunately, the available vaccines appear to offer a strong defense against the Delta variant, especially when it comes to severe illness and deaths, Frieden said.
“We are at war with this virus that has already killed more than 610,000 Americans. We now have the tools with vaccines and masks to stop further death and suffering and destruction,” CNN Medical Analyst Leana Wen said Wednesday.
’We’ve let our children down,’ FDA vaccine adviser says
Low Covid-19 vaccination rates in the US place children – many of whom cannot get vaccinated – at risk, Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine adviser to the US Food and Drug Administration, said Wednesday.
“I think we’ve let our children down,” Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
There is not currently a vaccine authorized for children under the age of 12 in the US, so young children rely on the vaccination of those around them to protect them, Offit explained. And many children who are 12 and older have not yet gotten the vaccine, he added.
Offit noted that many children are about to go back to school, during a time of year when the virus is transmitted more easily and the Delta variant is circulating.
“We need to get vaccination rates up, so that these children can be protected,” Offit said.
Highlighting that point, the president of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told CNN his staff is seeing babies in the neonatal intensive care unit sick with Covid-19.
Dr. Trey Dunbar told CNN children are being victimized by a pandemic that has a simple solution: adult vaccination.
“Covid is a preventable disease,” he said. “It’s hard for us as pediatricians to see kids affected by a preventable disease. Children aren’t like adults. They don’t have the choice to get vaccinated.
“So yes, it makes a big difference when adults make decisions for kids and adults make decisions that could maybe prevent diseases that we see in children,” Dunbar said.
Only six ICU beds available in one state
Even after the development and release of Covid-19 vaccines that so many health care professionals had hoped for, rising cases have led to overwhelmed hospitals.
Arkansas health officials reported a “record low number of available ICU beds,” Wednesday. According to Arkansas Department of Health Public Information Officer Danyelle McNeill, the state had just 25 ICU beds available.
According to Arkansas’ Covid-19 dashboard, there was a total of 1,232 Covid-19 positive admissions. The total number of Covid-19 positive admissions in the ICU is 466, and the total Covid-19 positive admissions on ventilators is 260.
As of Wednesday morning, Mississippi had only six open ICU beds available in the entire state, Dr. Jonathan Wilson, chief administrative officer and Covid-19 incident manager, said during a Covid-19 briefing from University of Mississippi Medical Center leaders.
“A very simple number, six. That’s how many open ICU beds we had in the state of Mississippi, this morning. Six. So, the situation is getting dire, not just here at the Medical Center, here in Metro Jackson, but the entire state. Our neighboring states are having similar situations,” Wilson said.
“We’re doing the best we can, from a state standpoint, to try to distribute patients to ensure healthcare as we know it is delivered. But we aren’t on the cusp of this, we know that we aren’t at the crest of this wave and it’s bad, but it’s probably going to get a little worse,” Wilson added.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Naomi Thomas, Jeff Simon, Nadia Romero and Raja Razek contributed to this report.