As the US ramps up vaccine distribution and states lift coronavirus pandemic restrictions, health experts warn that two major barriers could threaten the progress the country has seen in recent weeks.
Vaccine hesitancy and variants of COVID-19, experts say, might get in the way of the country reaching herd immunity and returning to some level of normalcy.
“We’re seeing restrictions being lifted in so many parts of the country, we’re seeing travel at an all-time high. People are already going back to pre-pandemic normal,” emergency physician Leana Wen told CNN on Thursday (March 18).
“We have a pretty narrow window of opportunity to make clear what the benefits of vaccination are. We know that these vaccines are really effective at preventing severe disease. They also substantially reduce your risk in each of these different types of settings, whether it’s going to the restaurant or gym, or seeing family and friends,” Dr. Wen said.
Texas and Mississippi were among the first states to recently lift their pandemic guidelines including rolling back mask mandates, and allowing businesses to return to full capacity.
Experts warn moves like these can allow the coronavirus variants to spread more rapidly. Recent data indicate coronavirus cases are on the rise in several states and additional variants have been identified. According to CNN’s report, the UK variant, B.1.1.7, is predicted to become the dominant variant in the US by the end of March or early April.
The vaccines, however, still give protection against variants, and experts are on a mission to raise awareness about the importance of mass vaccination.
Programs like the R.E.V. Program are getting accurate information and doses to vulnerable communities, particularly Black communities, through respected sources like churches and religious leaders. Vaccine appointment expansions at pharmacies are also helping address vaccine hesitancy by creating more reliable opportunities for people to get vaccinated.
Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath told the Black Information Network the latest COVID-19 relief bill includes funds for ad campaigns to provide vaccine education and told us about COVIDVaccineFacts.org that helps individuals get information on the vaccines, too.
As the country nears 100 million doses distributed into Americans’ arms, health officials say people should continue to maintain recommended guidelines to aid in the fight against variants’ spread.
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