By Aya Elamroussi, CNN
With the Delta variant accounting for more than a quarter of Covid-19 cases, there could soon be “two Americas” — one where most people are vaccinated and another where low vaccination rates could lead to case spikes, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned.
The stark disparity between places with low and high vaccination rates is something Fauci is “very concerned about,” he told CNN on Tuesday.
“When you have such a low level of vaccination superimposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among undervaccinated regions — be that states, cities or counties — you’re going to see these individual types of blips,” he said. “It’s almost like it’s going to be two Americas.”
But spikes in coronavirus cases are “entirely avoidable, entirely preventable,” said Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“If you are vaccinated, you diminish dramatically your risk of getting infected and even more dramatically your risk of getting seriously ill. If you are not vaccinated, you are at considerable risk,” Fauci warned.
Fauci’s remarks come as the Delta variant, which is more contagious and aggressive, has reached nearly every state and accounted for 26.1% of US Covid-19 cases as of Tuesday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Indeed, the rise and spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants are changing the equation for achieving herd immunity — the point at which enough people are protected against a virus to suppress its spread — a coronavirus specialist told CNN on Tuesday.
“Every time a virus gets better at transmitting, the number of people that have to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity increases,” said Andrew Pekosz, a professor of immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is studying the coronavirus.
“Certainly, we are not out of the woods yet because we haven’t had a vaccination rate where we get those herd immunity effects.”
Places with low vaccination rates are especially vulnerable to the Delta variant, experts have said.
In Mississippi, where just 29.7% of the population is fully vaccinated, unvaccinated people have accounted for more than 90% of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the past month, said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer for the Mississippi Department of Public Health.
Mississippi joins Alabama, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Louisiana in having less than 35% of residents fully vaccinated.
“I’m concerned about the Delta variant,” US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN Wednesday. “And I am worried that what we are seeing in terms of a plateauing of cases nationally but also an increase in cases in many small sections of the United States, that that is, in fact, being driven by the Delta variant.”
Vaccines protect against Delta variant, experts say
As variants spread, health experts are urging people to get fully vaccinated so they can have maximum protection.
Two weeks after the second dose, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective against symptomatic infections caused by the Delta variant, Fauci has said. Those who received only one dose have less protection.
Moderna’s vaccine was found in lab experiments to work against new variants including the Delta strain, the company said Tuesday. Serum samples from people who received two shots of the Moderna vaccine showed neutralizing activity against the variants, Moderna said in a pre-print study that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.
As for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, it’s “highly likely” it can protect against the Delta variant, though it hasn’t been proven through research yet, Fauci said.
Two doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which uses the same platform as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, are about 88% effective against the Delta variant, and “you can make the reasonable assumption” the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be “just as good,” Fauci said.
As of Tuesday, 46.4% of the US population was fully vaccinated, CDC data showed. Sixteen states have fully vaccinated more than half of their population. And 16 states have reached President Joe Biden’s goal to vaccinate 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4.
Mask guidance stays the same in most places
Even as the Delta variant spreads, most mask guidance and policies don’t appear poised to change.
“For now, the CDC recommendations stand that if in fact you are vaccinated — fully vaccinated — you are protected, and you do not need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors,” Fauci said.
Policies around masks on planes and public transport aren’t expected to change soon, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“Vaccinated people can take off their masks and celebrate July Fourth and feel safe in doing so, see each other smile again,” she added. “And then we’re really going to have to continue the hard work that we are doing to get people vaccinated and for those who are not to continue to protect them with mask wearing and distancing because of this Delta variant.”
Still, Los Angeles County decided to bring back its guidance to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The new, voluntary mask guidance is needed until health officials can “better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading,” the county’s department of public health said.
While nearly all the staff at Johns Hopkins’ public health school in Baltimore are vaccinated against Covid-19, they are still wearing masks to work, Pekosz told CNN.
“We still have a masking policy here, particularly in group situations,” he said. “This pandemic isn’t over yet.”
Los Angeles County appears to be the only county so far to recommend wearing masks in response to the spread of the Delta variant, the National Association of County and City Health Officials told CNN on Tuesday. But health officials are continuing to monitor the spread of the variant in the US, said Lori Tremmel Freeman, the group’s chief executive officer.
Nationally, the number of people practicing safety measures, such as social distancing and masking, continues to decrease, even as 84% of Americans have heard of the Delta variant, a poll published Tuesday by Axios-Ipsos showed. The poll, conducted Friday through Monday, comprised of a nationally representative sample of 1,106 adults.
Adults who want the vaccine already got it, poll shows
Meantime, most adults who plan to get the Covid-19 vaccine have already done so, another poll shows.
A Kaiser Family Foundation report released Wednesday shows 65% of adults polled have received at least one dose of the vaccine, up from 62% in May. Only 3% of those who haven’t been vaccinated said they plan to do so as soon as they can. About 14% said they will definitely not get vaccinated.
Nearly 20% of the people who are not vaccinated said they believe the vaccine is too new. A smaller number cited other reasons, like concerns about side effects or distrust in the government.
More than 30% of adults not inoculated said they would be more inclined to get a vaccine if they’re completely approved by the FDA. All Covid-19 vaccines in the US are currently available through emergency use authorization.
About 73% of workers with employers encouraging Covid-19 vaccination said they have gotten at least one shot, compared to 41% with employers not encouraging vaccination.
“Getting more Americans vaccinated isn’t only up to the government,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement. “Even without requiring workers to get a vaccine, employers can play a role by offering paid time off to get vaccinated and encouraging their workers to do so.”
In most American households, either everyone is vaccinated against Covid-19 or no one is, the report also found. The poll shows 77% of vaccinated adults said everyone in their home is vaccinated, while 75% of unvaccinated adults said no one they live with is vaccinated.
But overall, more people live in vaccinated homes: 50% of adults said they live in fully vaccinated households, while 25% said they’re in fully unvaccinated households, the poll showed.
Covid-19 cases among children are dropping
Children under 12 aren’t yet eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, but there is some good news about declining cases.
More than 8,400 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in children last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ weekly report, the lowest weekly number of cases since May 2020.
Children represented about 10% of reported Covid-19 cases last week. More than 4.03 million children have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Out of 23 states and New York City reporting hospitalization numbers, between 0.1% and about 2% of cases of Covid-19 in children required hospitalization, the report said.
Children represented less than a quarter of a percent of all Covid-19 deaths in 43 states reporting death numbers. Eight of these states reported zero deaths in children. Out of all states reporting, children make up to 0.03% of all deaths from Covid-19.
The decline in cases among children comes as the new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates Covid-19 vaccination rates among children ages 12 to 17 years are rising.
About 34% of parents said their eligible children have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, up from 24% in May. About 8% said they plan to get their 12- to 17-year-old children vaccinated right away.
The poll, which sampled 1,888 adults in the US, showed that about 61% of parents said they do not believe schools should require children to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Parents were largely split among political beliefs, with 58% of Democratic leaning parents responding that schools should mandate vaccinations, and 79% of parents who lean Republican saying they should not.
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CNN’s Maggie Fox, Jamie Gumbrecht, Joe Sutton, Kay Jones, Lauren Mascarenhas, Deidre McPhillips, Sarah Braner and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.