Solving COVID: May 5, 2021
Biden's ambitious new goal, what experts say about herd immunity, and more
Where things stand
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic is as bad as it has ever been, with a seven-day average of more than 800,000 new cases and 13,000 deaths per day reported. But in the U.S., the "number of reported infections dropped to its lowest point in seven months" on Tuesday, The Washington Post reports. For the first time in 208 days, the daily average of new infections in the U.S. dropped below 50,000. And the last time the average death toll was as low as it is now, about 725 deaths per day, was in October. Public health experts attribute America's declining numbers to the relatively high vaccination rate, but warn that if new variants take root before enough people are vaccinated, the numbers will start rising again.
Biden announces new goal of vaccinating 70 percent of U.S. adults by July 4
President Biden said Tuesday his administration's new goal is that by the Fourth of July, 70 percent of American adults will have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, and 160 million Americans will be fully vaccinated. "That means giving close to 100 million shots, some first shots, others second shots, over the next 60 days," Biden said. "Of course, Americans can still get shots after July 4, but no one should wait. Let's try to hit that 70 percent mark." Meeting this goal, Biden added, will be a "serious step towards a return to normal." The U.S. is currently administering about 965,000 first vaccine doses per day, which is down from a few weeks ago, but nearly twice the pace required to hit Biden's new goal. Over 56 percent of American adults have received at least one vaccine dose.
Experts suggest U.S. unlikely to reach herd immunity
The United States may not reach herd immunity to COVID-19, experts say, but the virus can still be controlled to the point that it's no longer a "society disrupter." The New York Times says there is now a "widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts" that in the U.S., the "herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever." While experts once thought the U.S. may be able to reach this threshold when 60 to 70 percent of the population had immunity to COVID-19, it's now believed reaching 80 percent or more may actually be required due to the spread of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant. This level may be out of reach, experts say, in part due to vaccine hesitancy. However, vaccines can help turn it into a milder threat that could be like the seasonal flu. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said by protecting those most at risk, COVID-19 can be turned "from a society disrupter to a regular infectious disease."
Pfizer to seek vaccine authorization for kids age 2 to 11 in September
Pfizer said on Tuesday it expects to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine for children between 2 and 11 in September. On Monday, it was reported that the Food and Drug Administration is set to authorize Pfizer's vaccine for adolescents between 12 and 15 by early next week. A study to examine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine among those between 6 months and 11 years old is ongoing. Additionally, Pfizer said it's expecting to seek authorization for its vaccine among children between 6 months and 2 years in the fourth quarter of 2021. Pfizer also announced Tuesday it plans to file for a full FDA approval of its COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month, which CNBC notes would mean "the company will be able to market the shot directly to consumers."
Researchers are racing to develop a test that shows how long COVID-19 vaccines work
Researchers want to know how long the current crop of COVID-19 vaccines protect against infection, and also want a quicker way to test the efficacy of new vaccines. They are trying to check both of those boxes by studying antibody levels in people already exposed to the virus. A study at Oxford University is deliberately re-exposing previously infected healthy young volunteers to the coronavirus, using blood tests to learn what level of antibodies will protect people against getting sick again. When researchers find that level of antibodies — or antibody cutoff titer — they can develop blood tests to determine how long vaccines are effective. A separate study involving the U.S. government's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Moderna is also trying to find the cutoff titer by examining antibodies in people who got COVID-19 symptoms after getting inoculated with Moderna's vaccine. They should soon be able to calculate whether a certain level of antibodies can show that new vaccines are effective without having to test the vaccines on tens of thousands of people.