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It's Open Season on Covid-19 Vaccines

A sign in English and Spanish directs patients to check-in for covid-19 vaccination appointments at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Toppenish, Washington

A sign in English and Spanish directs patients to check-in for covid-19 vaccination appointments at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Toppenish, WashingtonPhoto: Ted S. Warren (AP)

April is looking to shower Americans with covid-19 vaccines aplenty. On Monday, several states announced that they would open vaccine eligibility to most or all of the general public within the next week. And President Joe Biden is also expected to announce today that 90% of Americans will be eligible for a vaccine by mid-April. The good news comes amidst a small but worrying rise in new daily cases of the viral pandemic.

New York was one of the first to start the gravy train today. The state announced this afternoon that New Yorkers over the age of 30 will be eligible for a covid-19 vaccine starting tomorrow morning. By next week, April 6, all New York residents over 16 will be eligible as well. Colorado also announced today that every resident over 16 would be eligible by the end of this week, while Indiana has now opened eligibility for all residents over 30. Last week, Arizona, Georgia, and Louisiana were among those to open up eligibility as well.

And according to Bloomberg News reporter Josh Wingrove, President Biden will state today that 90% of Americans over the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine everywhere by April 19. The announcement is expected to come with a promise to more than double the current number of pharmacies where vaccines are available.

Illustration for article titled It's Open Season on Covid-19 Vaccines

These announcements reflect the relative and continued success of the country’s vaccine rollout. Over the weekend, daily vaccination records were once again broken, with more than 3 million people getting vaccinated a day. Nearly 100 million Americans have gotten at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine (about 28 percent of the entire U.S. population), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 52 million are now fully vaccinated.

These vaccines don’t just prevent severe illness and death from the viral illness; they also clearly reduce the risk of transmission. Just today, a CDC-led study found that the similar Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines were 90% effective against infection from the coronavirus, mirroring the success they showed at preventing illness in clinical trials. Another study published in Nature Medicine today found that these vaccines reduce the viral loads of vaccinated people who are unlucky enough to contract the virus, further indicating their success at reducing transmission.

The expanded rollout also comes at a precarious moment for the country. While deaths and hospitalizations have substantially declined since January, and deaths continue to decline weekly, this past week was the first time in three months that cases rose—a 6.7% increase in the average from the week before, according to CDC data. The rise seemed to be largely centered around the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the South, including in areas where worrying and more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, such as B.1.1.7, have become more prominent.

B.1.1.7 is about as vulnerable to vaccine-provided immunity as earlier strains. The high vaccination rate among the elderly (upwards of 70% with one dose) should significantly blunt the deaths and serious illnesses that could be caused by a new uptick in cases. It’s also possible that the U.S. may follow in Israel’s footsteps—one of the few large countries with a higher vaccination rate—where small blips in new cases during their early rollout flattened as more of the population became vaccinated. The country, with over 50% of its population fully vaccinated, continues to report very low numbers of cases, deaths, and hospitalizations from covid-19.

All that said, public health experts still warn that states are tempting fate by reopening indoor spaces and removing restrictions on physical distancing earlier than recommended, especially in the middle of rising daily cases. Fewer people may die or become seriously ill than they would have two months ago, but plenty will still get needlessly hurt if a fourth peak does arrive.

At a press conference today, CDC director Rochelle Walensky apparently broke from her prepared comments, stating that she felt an “impending sense of doom” about the recent rise in cases as she pleaded with Americans to stay vigilant and minimize their risk of transmission as much as possible for a little while longer.

For all of the vaccine-related success in the U.S. so far, the world at large is certainly facing another wave of the pandemic. Brazil in particular is seeing its deadliest peak yet, with many of the country’s hospitals at their breaking point. The U.S. has offered to provide some of its surplus vaccine supply to nearby countries, but it and other wealthy countries have also blocked efforts by many other countries to temporarily waive patent laws that would allow them to mass produce their own vaccines.

The pandemic is far from over, especially abroad. But for many Americans, the opportunity to get vaccinated is now finally within reach.

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