US officials show support for COVID vaccine mandates amid surge

The nation is now averaging more than 100,000 new cases per day as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised last month that students, teachers and staff should wear masks in schools to stem the spread of the coronavirus when classes resume [File: Megan Jelinger/Reuters]

The top infectious disease expert in the United States and the head of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union have expressed support for local coronavirus vaccine mandates, as the US grapples with a surge in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said he expects local entities such as colleges and businesses to impose vaccine mandates once the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues final approval of COVID-19 jabs.

That is something some sceptics have said they need before they will be inoculated.

“And I strongly support that … We’ve got to go the extra step of getting people vaccinated,” Fauci said during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press programme on Sunday, adding that he hoped the FDA’s final approval would come later this month.

“But for those who do not want, I believe mandates at the local level need to be done,” he also said.

His comments come as the US is now averaging more than 100,000 daily COVID-19 infections, spurred in large part by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant especially in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50.1 percent of Americans are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 58.5 percent have received at least one dose.

But public health experts have described the ongoing surge as an “outbreak of the unvaccinated” and for weeks they have urged the tens of millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated to go out and get the widely available jabs.

Now, total daily new cases across the US have surged to 118,000, their highest since February, while deaths are up 89 percent over the past two weeks, even while slightly declining around the world.

“We should not really have ever got to the place we are,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on ABC programme This Week, adding that “in that regard, yes, we are failing”.

“We would not be in the place we are right now with this Delta surge if we had been more effective in getting everybody” vaccinated, Collins said. “Now we’re paying a terrible price.”

Public health experts have described the ongoing surge in the US as an ‘outbreak of the unvaccinated’ [File: Octavio Jones/Reuters]

Meanwhile, children’s hospitals in US states like Florida, which accounts for a disproportionately high number of new infections and hospitalisations nationwide, are being “overwhelmed” as young people are increasingly affected.

But Republican Governor Ron DeSantis issued an order barring the state’s school districts from mandating mask-wearing, something that the CDC recommended late last month as a means to stem the spread of the virus.

Collins said if children returning to in-person learning are not required to wear masks, the virus would spread more widely. “It will probably result in outbreaks in schools, and kids will have to go back to remote learning, which is the one thing we want to prevent,” she said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Meet the Press programme of NBC News in a separate interview on Sunday that she believed US teachers should be required to get vaccinated to protect students who are too young to receive jabs.

“The circumstances have changed,” Weingarten said. “It weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated.

“I felt the need … to stand up and say this as a matter of personal conscience,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies