The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has topped 300,000 on the same day the first vaccines against COVID-19 were administered in the country, which has been the hardest hit globally in terms of cases and deaths.
The number of dead is roughly five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War and equivalent to the number of people killed in the 2001 9/11 World Trade Center attacks times 100.
According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, there have been more than 16 million cases confirmed in the US, a county of about 300 million people.
The latest grim milestone comes amid a surge in infections as the US enters its coldest months.
It also comes as the first healthcare workers rolled up their sleeves on Monday and received the freshly-authorised Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot. About three million doses are being shipped across the US, and are set to arrive at more than 600 sites by Wednesday.
The first shots on Monday marked the beginning of the largest vaccination campaign in American history. If a second vaccine, produced by Moderna Inc, is authorised in the coming days, officials say 20 million people could be immunised by month’s end.
The head of the White House’s vaccine programme has said that everyone in the country who wants the vaccine should be able to receive it by halfway through 2021 if development, approval, and distribution goes to plan.
Health experts have warned that the initial doses of the vaccine will do little to stem the current surge, which has threatened to overrun healthcare systems in several areas.
Meanwhile, a vastly different approach to the virus is expected under the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said his first priority in office will be a comprehensive and disciplined effort to defeat the outbreak.
On Monday, electors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia gathered to cast their vote in the Electoral College, the most consequential step yet in Biden cementing his victory in the presidential election.
Globally the virus is blamed for more than 1.6 million deaths and more than 72 million cases, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.
Health experts say the US’s 300,000 death toll should serve as a reminder to remain vigilant as inoculations are administered in the coming months.
With cold weather driving people inside, where the virus spreads more easily, and many Americans disdainful of masks and other precautions, some public health authorities project 100,000 more could die before the end of January.
“We are heading into probably the worst period possible because of all the things we had in the spring, which is fatigue, political resistance, maybe the loss of all the good will we had about people doing their part,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins, told the Reuters news agency.
Nuzzo contrasted the government’s scattershot response with the massive mobilisation undertaken after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“To think now we can just absorb in our country 3,000 deaths a day as though it were just business as usual, it just represents a moral failing,” she said.