Nearing 600,000 COVID deaths, US continues vaccination push

US President Joe Biden set a goal to administer at least one vaccine shot to 70 percent of Americans by July 4.

People lining up for vaccine shots in Chelsea, Massachusetts [Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Across the United States, governments are loosening social distancing rules and relaxing mask mandates, and businesses are fully reopening amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and sustained progress in the nation’s vaccination campaign.

But the coronavirus pandemic has claimed more lives in the US than in any other country in the world. And on Monday, the US appeared set to reach yet another grim new milestone, as the death toll approached 600,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Joe Biden said Monday that despite a nationwide drop in cases and hospitalisations, the disease “is still a real tragedy” and is claiming an average of 370 people a day.

He implored Americans who have not been vaccinated to get jabs.

“If you’ve not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Biden said at a news conference at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.

“We have more work to do to beat this virus. And now is not the time to let our guard down.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current weekly average of new cases for the disease is 13,997 – a more than 94 percent drop from the peak back in January.

More than 64 percent of American adults have received at least one vaccination shot, according to the CDC. Biden wants to get to 70 percent by July 4, in time for Independence Day.

A teenager receiving a vaccination dose in Chelsea, Massachusetts [Brian Snyder/Reuters]

However, as COVID-19 cases wane across the US, vaccine-lagging areas still see risk and officials are concerned over the possible rise of the Delta variant, which health officials believe is more than 60 percent more transmissible.

The US is currently administering an average of 1.1 million shots a day, a drop from the average three million jabs a day back in April.

Data also shows that the disease reinforced existing inequalities in the US.

The CDC, adjusting for population age differences, estimates that Native Americans, Latinos and Black people are more than two times more likely than white people to die of COVID-19.

For now, reopening plans are based on vaccination rates, which vary across states and continue to include rules for wearing masks, at least indoors.

The White House announced a slew of incentives to make the vaccines more appealing to those who have not received them [Brian Snyder/Reuters]

On Monday, Vermont became the latest state to lift all remaining restrictions after Governor Phil Scott said the state reached the milestone of 80 percent of eligible residents getting at least one dose of the vaccine.

Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a nationwide push to vaccinate millions of more Americans on Monday, by visiting a vaccine mobilisation event in South Carolina, one of several southern states where vaccination rates remain low.

Harris’s trip is part of the “month of action,” effort by the Biden administration to debunk misinformation and dislodge vaccine scepticism that experts say is to blame for the slowing rate of vaccination.

“They are safe, and they are free,” Harris said of the vaccines. “They are inspected, and it is that simple,” she said.

The White House effort includes a summer sprint of incentives and a slew of new steps to ease barriers and make the vaccines more appealing to those who have not received them.

Also on Monday Novavax said its COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, including against variants in a large, late-stage US-based clinical trial.

The study of nearly 30,000 volunteers in the US and Mexico puts Novavax on track to file for emergency authorisation in the US and elsewhere in the third quarter of 2021, the company said.

Novavax is on track to produce 100 million doses per month by the end of the third quarter of 2021 and 150 million doses per month in the fourth quarter of 2021, the company said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies