US health officials report sharp increase in vaccination rates

Development after government pressure as Delta variant continues surge across country

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, has confirmed the US is considering requiring all foreign visitors to be vaccinated as it plans to eventually reopen international travel following the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Health officials in the United States have reported a sharp increase in vaccination rates in recent weeks, as hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken the decision to protect themselves against coronavirus. More than 864,000 vaccinations were recorded over a 24-hour period on Thursday – the highest daily rate since July 3rd.

The development represents a bright spot in the Covid-19 pandemic story in the US as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread.

Officials on the White House’s Covid task force credited the introduction of vaccination requirements – both for federal workers, and for many private sector employees – as one of the reasons for the uptick in vaccination rates, as well as fear about the more infectious Delta variant.

“Already, we’re seeing momentum in vaccination requirements across the country, businesses know vaccinations are a way to keep their workers and customers safe and to keep their doors open,” White House Covid co-ordinator Jeff Zients said at a media briefing on Thursday.

“Clearly, Americans are seeing the impact of being unvaccinated and unprotected. And they’re responded by doing their part, rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated,” he said.

Officials reported a 90 per cent jump in first jabs in Tennessee over the last two weeks, an 82 per cent increase in Oklahoma and a 66 per cent rise in Georgia.

100,000 cases

Daily cases across the United States are now topping 100,000, compared with about 13,000 in early July. More than 80 per cent of all counties in the country are now classified as having a substantial or high level of virus transmission, said Rochelle Wallensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitalisation rates are also on the rise, though officials have stressed that fully-vaccinated people are unlikely to become seriously ill.

A disparity in vaccination rates continues to characterise America’s response to the pandemic, with a handful of states accounting for the majority of cases.

Florida, which has seen a sharp rise in infection rates, is experiencing resource issues in some hospitals. The Florida Hospital Association said it expects 60 per cent of hospitals in the state to face a “critical staffing shortage” in the next seven days.

With schools due to reopen this month across the United States, several school districts are resisting mask mandates for students. But others are pressing ahead. In Florida, some schools have introduced mandates, in defiance of governor Ron DeSantis’s executive order prohibiting schools from enacting mask requirements.

Booster shots

On the issue of top-up shots for Americans, leading immunologist Dr Anthony Fauci said that it was a “very high priority” to make booster shots available to millions of people who are immunocompromised.

“It is extremely important for us to move to get those individuals their boosters,” he said. “And we are now working on that, and will make that be implemented as quickly as possible.”

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation called for a halt to booster shots until at least the end of September, to help address vaccination needs in the developing world. Israel has started giving a third shot to its most vulnerable citizens, while several European countries have said they intend to begin soon.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam became the latest well-known figure to test positive for Covid-19, despite having been fully vaccinated. Senator Lindsey Graham is quarantining having contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday directing that half of all vehicles sold in the United States should be emissions-free by the end of this decade. The ambitious target is a bid to tackle America’s biggest source of emissions. Mr Biden pledged to increase investment in electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

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