NEW YORK (CNN) – Experts say that COVID-19 vaccines in the United States are doing very well, but not enough people are protected yet and the country may be at the beginning of another surge.
The United States reported a record over the weekend with more than 4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in 24 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the country now averages more than 3 million daily doses, according to CDC data.
But only about 18.5% of Americans are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows, and COVID-19 cases in the country have seen worrying increases recently.
“I think we still have a few more difficult weeks ahead of us,” Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, told CNN on Sunday. “What we know from the pandemic last year is that we tend to be three to four weeks behind Europe in terms of our pandemic patterns.”
The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 has led to an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in some parts of Europe. And experts worry that the United States will be next if Americans don’t step up security measures until more people are vaccinated.
What’s worse, experts say, is that the variant is changing the pandemic’s playbook and could spell trouble for younger groups who have yet to be vaccinated.
“We have to think of variant B.1.1.7 as almost a new virus,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s acting differently than anything we’ve seen before, in terms of transmissibility, in terms of affecting young people, so we have to take this very seriously.”
More young people infected, hospitalized
The difference between the previous waves and another possible wave now is that “the most affected people now are the younger people,” emergency doctor Dr. Leana Wen told CNN on Sunday.
Older populations across the country have been prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines. More than 54% of Americans 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, while more than 75% of that same age group have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But while that age group is now relatively well protected, Wen said, younger groups remain vulnerable as variant B.1.1.7 circulates. The variant is more contagious and can cause a more severe iteration of the disease, experts have said. Research suggests that it can also be more deadly.
“We’re seeing in places like Michigan that the people who are now hospitalized in large numbers are people in their 30s and 40s,” Wen said. “And now we are also seeing children becoming infected in greater numbers.”
It’s not just Michigan.
“What we’re seeing are pockets of infection across the country, particularly in younger people who haven’t been vaccinated, and also in school-age children,” said former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. , to CBS “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“If you look at what is happening in Michigan, in Minnesota, in Massachusetts, for example, you are seeing outbreaks in schools and infections in social cohorts that have not been exposed to the virus before.”
“The infection is changing its contours in terms of who is being affected by it at the moment.”
In Florida’s Orange County, officials reported late last month an increase in COVID-19 cases in the 18-25 age group.
And a third of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county were people under the age of 45, according to Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.
New Jersey officials said last week that the variants, including the B.1.1.7 strain, were contributing to an increase in cases and hospitalizations, even in the youngest age groups.
Between the first and last week of March, there was a 31% and 48% increase, respectively, in the number of hospitalizations among the age groups 20-29 and 40-49, the state health commissioner said Wednesday. Judy Persichilli.
Meanwhile, older residents only saw single-digit percentage increases, he added.
How can we stop another wave of infections?
Despite alarming warning signs, the United States is not powerless, experts have emphasized.
Doubling down safety measures – masking, social distancing, avoiding crowds – along with quick and efficient vaccinations can help curb another surge in COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Saturday.
“We say it over and over and we need local people, we need governors, mayors and others to be able to say, ‘We’re not done yet,’” Fauci said.
“People say, ‘Well, you just want to confine us forever.’ No, this is not going to last forever because every day four million, three million people are vaccinated, they get closer and closer to control. “
Hotez estimated Sunday that the Americans need to hold out “another four to six weeks, and then we’ll be on the other side.”
“All vaccines seem to work equally well against this UK-B.1.1.7 variant … so that’s really good news,” he said. “I am very confident that we will be in a really good place for the summer.”
“But if you are not vaccinated, you have to behave as if you are very vulnerable to this virus. This is not a time to get sick,” Hotez added.
Spring break trips skyrocket
The Transportation Security Administration says it screened 1.54 million people at airports across the country on Sunday, just shy of a pandemic record set Friday when 1.58 million people flew in. More than 6 million people have flown since Thursday.
Sunday’s detection rate is more than ten times higher than the figures that bottomed out a year ago, but still well below 2019 levels. TSA figures have been above 1.5 million for three years. the last seven days and more than a million for 25 days in a row.
On Friday, the CDC said those who are fully vaccinated can now travel at low risk to themselves, but said non-essential travel should still be avoided.
Delta Air Lines said it had to fill some intermediate seats on weekend flights to meet demand, even though its capacity limit doesn’t end until May 1.
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