The US government's chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, warned on Sunday that time was running short to prevent a "dangerous" new surge of Covid-19 infections from overwhelming the upcoming holiday season.
Coronavirus cases across the US are rising again for the first time in weeks, and approaching 100,000 per day. Experts fear that this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, for which tens of millions of Americans will travel for indoor celebrations with family and friends, will fuel a further surge.
Mr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was not too late to avoid a significant worsening of Covid-19 rates leading up to Christmas and New Year if the public acted now on new measures to subdue the virus, such as Friday’s approval of booster shots for adults and the recent opening up of vaccinations to children aged five to 11.
“We still have about 60 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not been, and that results in the dynamic of virus in the community that not only is dangerous and makes people who are unvaccinated vulnerable, but it also spills over into the vaccinated people,” Mr Fauci said on CNN on Sunday.
“We have a lot of virus circulating around. You can’t walk away from the data, and the data show that the cases are starting to go up, which is not unexpected when you get into a winter season. People start to go indoors more and we know that immunity does wane over time.
“The bottom line is get vaccinated if you’re not vaccinated, and boostered if you have been vaccinated. Since we can vaccinate children from five to 11, you start vaccinating them now [and] they will be fully vaccinated by the time we get to the Christmas holidays.”
The numbers of Americans travelling for Thanksgiving this year will be close to pre-pandemic levels, the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has predicted, raising fears at a time when the Biden administration has struggled to get its vaccination message across.
The daily average of new cases has risen 29 per cent in the last 14 days, analysis by the New York Times shows, while fewer than 60 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the 2021 US death toll from Covid has surpassed that of 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Additionally, Joe Biden’s efforts to improve those figures through compulsory vaccination have stalled. The requirement for businesses of more than 100 employees remains blocked by the courts while Republican leaders in some states have kneecapped the president by enacting laws specifically outlawing such mandates.
Disney, one of Florida's biggest employers, announced on Saturday it would no longer insist cast members be vaccinated, after the governor, Ron DeSantis, signed sweeping legislation on Thursday countermanding Biden's order. In a move that many saw as infantile, DeSantis chose the unincorporated Florida community of Brandon for the signing – "Let's Go Brandon" has become an offensive anti-Biden rallying call of the right in recent weeks.
In a later appearance Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Fauci was cautious over suggestions by vaccine manufacturers that annual boosters might be necessary to keep Covid-19 at bay.
“We would hope, and this is something that we’re looking at very carefully, that that third shot with the mRNA [vaccine] not only boosts you way up, but increases the durability so that you will not necessarily need it every six months, or a year,” he said.
“We’re hoping it pushes it out more. If it doesn’t and the data show we do need it more often then we’ll do it.”