Despite encouraging national trends in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and cases, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worries that “pandemic fatigue” come spring could significantly hamper the country’s trajectory toward vaccination-induced herd immunity.
The comments from Dr. Rochelle Walensky also come as additional states continue to detect highly transmissible coronavirus variants first identified in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7) and South Africa (B.1.351). A separate variant first found in Brazil (P.1) has also been identified in two states. CDC models have projected that the B.1.1.7 strain could become dominant in the U.S. by March.
“I worry that it will be spring and we will all have had enough,” Walensky told Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of JAMA in an interview Wednesday. “At around that time, I worry that life will feel and look a little bit better and the motivation for those who might be vaccine hesitant will be diminished.”
COVID-19 VACCINE ROLLOUTS MAY BE WAY AROUND VARIANT ISSUE, EXPERT SAYS
While states are grappling with vaccine supply issues now, an inflection point will come where supply will exceed demand, Walensky said, noting that a continued scale up of vaccination will remain crucial at that point to progress toward herd immunity.
“While I really am hopeful for what could happen in March and April, I really do know this could go bad so fast and we saw it in November, we saw it in December, we saw what could happen.”
Reports of health officials worrying over so-called “pandemic fatigue” cropped up last summer and into the fall, as some grew tired of lockdowns and laxed precautions to venture out and socialize with others.
Nevertheless, experts urge the public to remain diligent in taking precautions to protect against contracting the novel virus and propagating the chain of transmission.
The seven-day average for hospitalized COVID-19 patients continues to decline following a record peak in mid-January, plunging from about 130,000 to some 67,000 patients more recently, per data compiled by The COVID Tracking Project. A seven-day average for new cases is also on a decline from some 260,000 daily infections in late December to below 100,000 new cases in recent days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The dip below 100,000 daily new cases in recent days marked a milestone for the first time in months.
Public health experts, including Walensky, have attributed the decreases in cases and hospitalizations to the gradual distancing away from the holiday season with its travel and close indoor gatherings.
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The U.S. is now averaging 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered daily, the White House said Wednesday, up from an average of 900,000 shots per day one month ago. The latest seven-day daily average data reflects an increase of 200,000 doses from the week prior. More than 15 million people, or about 5% of the population, have received two doses as of Feb. 17, or the full course of vaccination.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.