Dangerous Covid variants could set back national progress against the pandemic, officials warn

With declining rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths across the US, more cities and states have lifted safety restrictions in anticipation of a better summer.

But officials continue to warn that those unvaccinated remain vulnerable to the virus, especially to dangerous variants which could set back national progress against the pandemic if they become more widespread.

Nationwide, 64% of adults have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and about 53% are fully vaccinated, yet the Biden administration’s goal of 70% of adults with at least one dose of vaccine by July 4 will fall short at the current pace. More than a dozen states have hit that goal as of this week, according to the CDC.

Barriers to access along economic lines, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation have been cited as contributing factors to a slowing of vaccination rates in the US from earlier highs.

“This kind of doubting the safety of vaccines, doubting the necessity of vaccines … it is very, very dangerous, and a lot of people are hearing this,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said.

In five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming — fewer than half of adult residents have received one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data published Thursday.

As officials try to quicken the rate of vaccination, recent data gives further credence that vaccines are some of the best tools to fight against variants that could otherwise exacerbate the pandemic.

Two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine appear to provide good protection against some of the worrisome new variants circulating, including the B.1.617.2 or Delta variant first seen in India, researchers reported Thursday.

“New variants will continue to emerge as the pandemic persists,” researchers said, noting there has been no evidence that variants have largely escaped such vaccine protections.

“Therefore, increasing the proportion of the population immunized with current safe and effective authorized vaccines remains a key strategy to minimize the emergence of new variants and end the Covid-19 pandemic.”

FDA discussion over vaccinating children continues

As the efficacy of vaccines is demonstrated in adults, the US Food and Drug Administration discussed Thursday whether additional measures are needed in the potential vaccination of children ages 11 and younger.

Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine is authorized for use in people ages 12 and up. Moderna’s vaccine is authorized in people 18 and older, although the company has asked the FDA to authorize its use in children as young as 12. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is authorized in people ages 18 and older.

One member of a panel of FDA vaccine advisers spoke out strongly against extending emergency use authorization to coronavirus vaccines for children under the age of 12, saying more safety data is needed.

“Before we start vaccinating millions of adolescents and children, it’s important to find out what the consequences are,” said Dr. Cody Meissner, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts University School of Medicine, who advocated for more extensive testing.

Meissner spoke with CNN on Thursday and said he was particularly worried by recent reports about a possible link between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and myocarditis, or heart inflammation, among younger people.

“We need a vaccine for adolescents and children,” Meissner told CNN. “But I think we also want to be sure that the benefit exceeds the risk.”

Meissner also praised the success of vaccinations so far against the pandemic, saying, “These vaccines are equivalent to our accomplishments in space.”

FDA adviser Dr. Paul Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he was “confident that there was unanimity” among advisers on the importance of having a Covid-19 vaccine for children despite disagreement over how potential vaccines are researched and authorized.

“I certainly think we would have a vaccine by early next year, and hopefully we’ll have a vaccine for the 6-to-12-year-old by the end of the year,” Offit said.

“If we’re past the pandemic — if this is all behind us — then that’s not going to be an issue, but we’re not past the pandemic,” Offit added. “The variants are still out there and becoming more contagious. I think when the winter comes, you’re going to see this virus surge again, so we still need a vaccine.”

More Covid-19 restrictions loosen

Masks no longer have to be worn in outdoor areas of public transportation by individuals fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to new guidance released by the CDC on Thursday.

For those who are not vaccinated, the CDC advises continued mask adherence.

“While those who are fully vaccinated may resume many activities without wearing a mask, the travel environment presents a unique set of circumstances based on the number and close interaction of travelers (both vaccinated and unvaccinated),” the CDC stated.

Additional cities and states this week lessened Covid-19 restrictions in light of improving news.

Philadelphia on Friday ended its indoor mask mandate as well as 11 p.m. last calls for restaurants, according to a release from the city.

“For nearly fifteen months, the City of Philadelphia has had restrictions in place to protect each other, and I have no doubt that these restrictions saved countless lives,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “But Friday will be a day that we’ve all been looking forward to: getting back to doing the things that we love. Thanks to the more than two-thirds of adults who’ve been vaccinated already, we can finally do the things that we’ve missed doing for the last year.”

In New Hampshire, the state’s coronavirus state-of-emergency will expire Friday night and Gov. Chris Sununu has said he would not be renewing it. A public health incident status will remain in place, Sununu said, allowing healthcare providers and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate further Covid-19 efforts.

“It’s about vaccination,” Sununu said at a briefing on Thursday. “We have a very high rate of vaccination with both our healthcare staff and the residents themselves, which is great and we’re going to keep encouraging that.”

Question of the Day

June 23

Q: Men are twice as likely as women to spend big bucks on this… A: Vacation

June 22

Q: A new survey says this is the riskiest food to order on a first date… A: Oysters

June 21

Q: Slightly more people say they are really bad at doing this compared to those who say they’re really good at it… A: Swimming