Disease Experts Look to the End Of Pandemic But Aren’t Sure When
WASHINGTON — As the U.S. death toll reached 564,000 from COVID-19, the nation’s top disease experts said Thursday normal life will return for Americans only when enough of them get vaccinated.
But with more than 70,000 new infections daily, they could not predict for Congress when the pandemic will end.
“The only way we’re going to get out of this, particularly with the increase in variants, is to get people vaccinated,” said David Kessler, chief science officer for the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
He told the House Oversight and Reform select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis that hopes are rising for the pandemic to subside as the supply of vaccine increases, enabling more than three million Americans a day to be vaccinated.
Nevertheless, infections continue more than a year after the onset of the disease in the United States.
“Let’s get this done, then we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Kessler said as he suggested a fast pace of vaccination.
So far, at least 37% of the U.S. population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine injection and more than 23% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky cautioned against believing the steady progress has reached a level that makes the public safe, also known as “herd immunity.”
She said that COVID-19 variants that emerged recently from South Africa, the United Kingdom and Brazil present ongoing threats.
“We must remain vigilant in our prevention efforts,” Walensky said.
She declined to project a date for the United States to reach herd immunity.
“I think it’s changing given the variants,” she told lawmakers.
Walensky testified to Congress while one of the COVID-19 vaccines produced by pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson was “paused” by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA ordered distribution halted on Tuesday after seven women developed blood clotting problems when they received the vaccine. One of them died.
Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the congressional subcommittee the FDA wanted a few more days to study the rare aftereffect. He described the move as an effort to show an abundance of caution.
Also on Thursday, a new Economist/YouGov poll showed Americans’ trust in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine fell after the FDA paused distribution.
The report said 52% of U.S. adults believed the Johnson & Johnson shot was “very safe” or “somewhat safe” before the pause. Afterward, only 37% said they believed the injections are safe. Thirty-nine percent believed they are unsafe
The persons surveyed showed much stronger confidence in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
The blood clots formed in fewer than one in a million recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Fauci endured intense criticism from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, for the public health restrictions he helped to craft. They include shutdowns of schools, businesses and some government agencies.
“I just want to know, when do Americans get their First Amendment liberties back,” Jordan asked Fauci.
Fauci responded, “I don’t see this as a liberty issue. I see it as a public health issue.”
Jordan told him the shutdown was “a national disgrace” that is falling heavily on schoolchildren who are being deprived of adequate education, some of them becoming suicidal.
“Long term damage is being done to those kids,” Jordan said.
Rep. Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., accused the Biden administration of adding to the pandemic by failing to block illegal immigrants who might be infected from entering the United States.
“Americans are at risk of another massive health crisis” because of illegal immigration, Green said.
“This is what we get with an open border,” he said.
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