"The U.S. is now embarking on its latest COVID experiment: What happens if you let the virus go unchecked in the middle of a vaccine rollout?" Politico's Renuka Rayasam asked Tuesday night. As states lift safety restrictions while new, more contagious and dangerous variants spread and people start traveling more, "COVID cases are starting to swell yet again around the country and, this time, infections are spreading among younger people — as well as people who might have been at moderate risk but managed to avoid infection until now."
At the same time, the U.S. vaccination effort continues to accelerate. An average of 2.77 million doses are being administered each day and 39 states have opened vaccination eligibility to all adults or plan to by mid-April. About 30 percent of the population has gotten at least one dose, including a majority of Americans 65 and older, the group most likely to be hospitalized or killed by COVID-19.
"The most vulnerable people were among the first in line to get vaccines," NPR's Ari Shapiro pointed out to Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage on Tuesday's All Things Considered. In a fourth pandemic wave, "could you envision a scenario where we might see a huge spike in new cases but we don't see a corresponding spike in hospitalizations and deaths?"
"That can be envisioned," because "the vaccines are really good at preventing severe disease and death," Hanage said. "I would caution, though, that we have not managed to get vaccine into the arms of all of the most vulnerable. And like I say, it doesn't really take a huge number of them to be infected for them to be causing serious problems. One of the biggest, most recent spikes that we've seen has been in Michigan. And it's looking as if maybe in the most recent data, there's a little uptick in deaths as well."
Chile, with one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns, "serves as a cautionary tale for other nations looking to vaccination drives to quickly put an end to the era of beleaguered economies, closed borders, and social distancing," The New York Times reports.
"No one questions that the vaccination campaign is a success story," Dr. Francisca Crispi, a regional president of Chile's medical association, told the Times. "But it conveyed a false sense of security to people, who felt that since we're all being vaccinated the pandemic is over."