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The Health 202: Fauci says the U.S. will meet Biden's July 4 vaccination goal

with Alexandra Ellerbeck

The daily vaccination rate is above where the United States needs to be to meet President Biden’s July 4 vaccination goals.

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said yesterday he thinks the targets will be met.

“I believe we will attain” the president’s goal of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Fauci told my colleague Yasmeen Abutaleb during a Washington Post Live interview.

Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease expert, says if the country reaches President Biden’s vaccination goal, “there will be enough protection in the community” to avoid a surge in cases later in the year. (Video: Washington Post Live)
22 million more Americans need a vaccine shot to reach Biden’s Independence Day goal.

Earlier this month, Biden said he wants 60 percent of American adults fully vaccinated and 70 percent with at least one shot by July 4. The daily vaccination rate has now sunk to 1.8 million shots per day, according to The Post’s vaccine tracker. That’s a 12 percent decrease from last week.

Yet that rate is still enough to reach Biden's 70 percent benchmark. Around 160 million Americans have received at least one shot. Around half a million people need to receive their first shot over the next 44 days in order for Biden to meet his goal.

The rewards are clear, even if convincing the vaccine-hesitant can be tough. Getting enough people vaccinated will dramatically reduce the chances of another coronavirus surge. Fauci said that’s not something he’s worried about, assuming a “substantial” number of people choose to get the shots.

If you have a group of vaccines as “highly effective as these vaccines are, and you get a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, the chances of there being a surge are extraordinarily low, I mean quite, quite low,” Fauci said.

Here are a few other things Fauci told Yasmeen:

He emphasized that people with organ transplants or cancer probably aren’t getting as much protection from the vaccines.

As our colleague Ariana Eunjung Cha reported, some immunocompromised Americans are generating few antibodies from the vaccines, although the data is limited.

“Neither the federal government nor vaccine makers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna has stepped up to do a comprehensive study about whether the vaccines protect people with immune issues,” Ariana wrote. “As such, most of the research has been conducted piecemeal in academic centers — and many are reaching differing, sometimes conflicting, conclusions.”

Fauci said that while most Americans may not need a vaccine booster for “quite a while,” these individuals may require extra shots to boost their limited immunity from the virus.

“We have a heterogeneous population in this country and throughout the world,” Fauci said. “So, a healthy person who gets a good response is clearly different from someone who is on cancer chemotherapy or who is on an immunosuppressive drug for, as you mentioned, an autoimmune disease and especially people who have transplantation together with immunosuppressive therapy.”

Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease expert, says we may not need coronavirus vaccine boosters “for quite a while.” ““I really don’t think it’s accurate to say we will need boosters x number of months from now. We may not need it for quite a while. We’re preparing for the eventuality that we might need boosters.” (Video: Washington Post Live)
Fauci also couched the new masking guidance.

Over the past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been alternately praised and excoriated for more relaxed guidance on when fully vaccinated people should wear masks. 

The guidelines, Fauci said, were misinterpreted by some to mean that no one needs to wear masks anymore, ever. Thats “absolutely not the case because the CDC was only speaking of those individuals who are fully vaccinated,” he said.

Fauci stressed that many establishments, such as restaurants, are well within their rights to continue requiring masks.

“What were going to be seeing also and I think this is very clear because were already seeing examples of it there are going to be certain organizations, certain institutions that no matter what are going to require proof of vaccination before you can enter into whatever establishment it is,” he said.

Anthony S. Fauci says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need masks has caveats associated with it. “It was given as a broad guideline and recommendation, but there are caveats associated with that, one of which is that not everyone is equally protected when it comes to vaccines, particularly individuals such as those who are immunosuppressed.“ (Video: Washington Post Live)
Critics have said the guidance was too broad and too rushed.

But in following scientific advice as Biden has promised repeatedly to do his administration left out local and state health departments, labor unions, governors and numerous other public officials, many of whom were caught off guard by one of the most significant developments of the coronavirus pandemic, our colleagues Annie Linskey, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Lena H. Sun and Tyler Pager write.

“In Biden’s rush to share the mask news with little context or discussion, some White House insiders, Biden allies and public health experts worry that the administration may have inadvertently encouraged millions of unvaccinated Americans to stop wearing masks,” they add.

“This guidance may be quite appropriate as individual guidance, but it is not appropriate as guidance for community action,” said Tom Frieden, who was the CDC director under President Barack Obama.

“There was no urgency to change the mask guidance. That should have been done in a more planful way,” Frieden continued, adding: “I haven’t said that on the record before.

But here's the good news: coronavirus deaths are going down, down, down.

As we detailed on Monday, the United States is beating the virus on three key indicators. Chief among those is the number of daily deaths, which have now fallen below 500 for the first time since this all began.

Andy Slavitt, senior advisor to the White House coronavirus task force:

Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that the U.S. vaccination rate is too low to meet Biden's 70 percent goal. Rather, about half a million first shots would need to go into arms in order to meet the benchmark by July 4 – not two million first shots per day, as we had erroneously calculated. We regret the error and have clarified the story accordingly.

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: JPMorgan Chase is trying again to fix health care.

The bank announced it will form a new business aimed at improving care for about 285,000 people through its employer plan, the Associated Press’s Tom Murphy reports. The move comes a few months after the shutdown of Haven, a similar venture backed by JPMorgan, Amazon and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

The leaders of Haven said the joint venture was successful in formulated ideas, including proposals for reducing drug prices, but that when it came to implementing them, it made more sense to pursue the ideas separately. 

Former Clinton administration official Dan Mendelson will serve as chief executive of Morgan Health, which will start with $250 million in investments. Still, it may be hard for a single employer, even one as large as the bank, to leverage the scale needed to bring down health-care costs. 

OOF: Colorado banned the doxing of health workers amid rampant harassment.

“Seeking to address the mounting online harassment endured by health workers across the state during the pandemic, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill Tuesday making it illegal to post personal information about health workers, officials and their families that threatens their safety,” The Post’s Meryl Kornfield reports. 

The law comes as many health-care workers across the country report being targeted for their role in advocating for masking and other public health precautions. Some workers have said that harassment and threats have led them to quit their jobs.

Theresa Anselmo, former executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, told The Post that 80 percent of the coalition’s members had reported being threatened.

OUCH: New studies suggest the number of children hospitalized for covid-19 is overcounted.

“The reported number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, one of the primary metrics for tracking the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, was grossly inflated for children in California hospitals, two research papers published Wednesday concluded. The papers, both published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics, found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted by at least 40 percent, carrying potential implications for nationwide figures,” New York Magazine’s David Zweig reports.

  • One of the studies, conducted at a children’s hospital in Northern California, found that more than half of 117 pediatric patients coded as positive for the virus were probably in the hospital for reasons unrelated to any covid-19 symptoms. Among the reasons for admissions were surgeries, cancer treatment and a psychiatric episode. 
  • A second study found that in 40 percent of 146 hospitalizations for children with the coronavirus, the positive diagnosis for the virus was “incidental” and there was no record of the patients experiencing covid-19 symptoms. In both hospitals, universal testing of inpatients may have contributed to the identification of more asymptomatic cases.

“The implications of the findings of these two studies are enormously important, as reports of pediatric hospitalizations have regularly made headlines over the past year, greatly affecting public perceptions about risks to children. Untold numbers of parents have kept children home from school or limited play dates and other activities out of fear their children would be infected and fall seriously ill,” David writes.

More in coronavirus news

Western governments are preparing for the possibility of vaccine boosters.

“Concerns that Covid-19 may morph into a seasonal menace are driving preparations in the U.S., the European Union and the U.K. for a winter vaccine booster program. The plans are precautionary, according to public-health officials, and it isn’t yet certain they will be put into operation or at what scale,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Douglas reports.

Scientists are still gathering data to determine whether immunity from coronavirus vaccines will fade over time and how effective current vaccines will be against new variants of the virus. Some health experts say talking about boosters is premature at this point, especially when so many countries do not even have access to first doses.

A federal inquiry into New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has expanded to include his family’s use of priority coronavirus testing.

“Investigators from the Eastern District of New York had been looking into the handling of data on nursing home deaths by Mr. Cuomo’s office. More recently, their focus expanded … to include questions surrounding a priority testing program that benefited Mr. Cuomo’s close family members, including his brother, Chris Cuomo, in the early weeks of the pandemic,” the New York Times’s J. David Goodman reports.

The New York Times reports that the governor’s family may have received special access to testing as recently as last month, when one of Cuomo’s daughters, Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, and her boyfriend, Tellef Lundevall, were tested at a state-run site in Albany. Their samples were labeled as a priority and processed within hours. The priority designation is meant to ensure fast testing for high-priority cases, such as those involving possible outbreaks, but the couple was getting tested to visit the governor before a holiday.

Elsewhere in health care

Doctors are prescribing fewer opioid pills after patients undergo surgery.

The median number of opioid tablets prescribed after same-day surgical procedures in the United States has gone down by half between 2017 and 2020, according to a study from the Epic Health Research Network. The number of prescribed pills, however, remains higher than what experts recommend for some procedures.

Sugar rush