In recent weeks, though, there’s been a question about how close we might get to true herd immunity, the state in which so many people are immune to the virus — mostly due to vaccinations — that it can’t spread easily even among the non-vaccinated. To hit that mark, as many people as possible need to get doses of the available vaccines. About a month ago, though, the number getting vaccines each day began to wane. The implication was that demand had collapsed somewhat short of the level of vaccination needed to hit that immunity mark.
That may not be the case, for two reasons: The number of vaccine doses being administered each day has stabilized and reticence to get vaccinated has dropped.
Data from the CDC collated by The Washington Post show that the daily average of vaccine doses administered has been around 2 million for about 10 days. From April 13 to May 4, that figured declined from 3.4 million to 2.2 million. But it’s stayed in the 2 million range since. The number of people who’ve been completely vaccinated — receiving either both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson — has continued to tick upward. Over the past week, 1.4 million more people a day have become fully vaccinated.
April 13 is a significant day in the vaccine calendar: It was the point at which the government temporarily paused distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. There was speculation that the slowdown that coincided with that pause was caused by the pause, which seems quite possible. The pause ended in late April. The slowdown appears to have ended more recently.
It’s still the case that a lot of people are skeptical of getting the vaccine. But the number of people saying that they have gotten the vaccine or plan to get the vaccine has continued to rise. Even among Republicans, a group that had stood out for expressing an unwillingness to be vaccinated, polling from YouGov conducted for the Economist shows that hesitation has finally begun to drop.
In February, an average of 23 percent of Americans overall expressed uncertainty about getting the vaccine with another 26 percent saying they didn’t plan to get it. Among Republicans, those figures were 23 percent and 33 percent.
Over the last three YouGov-Economist polls, which used slightly different wording, 14 percent of Americans said they were unsure while 18 percent expressed flat opposition. Among Republicans, the numbers were 14 percent and 25 percent who rejected any vaccine at all.
That’s still a lot of opposition, of course. But that the trend is heading in the right direction is important. Perhaps more important is that the trend in new coronavirus cases is also heading in the right direction, down now to a point we hadn’t seen since last fall. Even if we haven’t hit herd immunity, having far more immunized individuals makes it less likely that the virus will spread.
Over the short term, we can assume that daily vaccinations will increase as those teenagers who have newly been cleared for the Pfizer vaccine receive their shots. We may also see increased uptake in places like Ohio, where the state will award a $1 million prize once a week for five weeks for any vaccine recipient. (Teenagers who get the shot are entered into a contest for a far better prize: a full ride to a state university in Ohio, like my alma mater.) Such incentives are themselves becoming more widespread, from beers in New Jersey to $100 in West Virginia.
For those 14 percent of Americans who are unsure, maybe free french fries will for some reason do the trick. Who knows.
We’re not out of the woods yet, nor, by a long shot, is the rest of the world. But tens of millions of Americans are vaccinated and new infections and deaths are plunging. Skepticism is fading and states are doing their best to get more people signed up. The vaccines are effective and safe. We’ve reached a point where the vaccinated can almost go back to their lives as normal.
Even for a populace very used to some unexpected downside emerging, it’s hard to see where one might emerge in this case.