President Joe Biden has promised a faster Covid-19 vaccine rollout, vowing to administer 100 million shots during his first 100 days in office — enough to fully vaccinate at least 50 million Americans.
But that goal is no longer as ambitious as it once appeared.
Over the past week, America has already averaged about 900,000 vaccinations a day, making Biden’s goal of 1 million a day barely a step up from what the country reached before he took office on Wednesday.
This rate of vaccination is much slower than many experts would like. Some have called for finishing the vaccination campaign by or in the summer. But the current rate — and Biden’s goal — would fall short of that.
By expert estimates, 70 to 80 percent of Americans, or more, need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity and sufficient population protection. Splitting the difference, that means at least 245 million Americans likely need to be vaccinated, with 15 million already getting at least first-time doses. Even with new vaccines hitting the market and supply ramping up, the current rate, or Biden’s goal, means it could take until fall at the earliest to reach herd immunity — or even as late as 2022.
Peter Hotez, an infectious disease and vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine, told me that America should aim for at least 2 million a day — and preferably 3 million. That’s what would get some of the most important parts of vaccination efforts done this summer or earlier.
Those extra months of a slow rollout really matter. With more than 3,000 people dying of Covid-19 a day in the US, a delay of months could potentially mean hundreds of thousands of additional deaths. While vaccination efforts, particularly those targeting the most vulnerable populations, will bring that death toll down, even a rate of hundreds of deaths a day would result in tens of thousands of extra deaths over months.
And a slower rollout means more time before life and the economy go back to normal.
A slow vaccination campaign could make the pandemic worse in other ways. Hotez pointed to new virus variants, some of which have already come out of the UK and South Africa, that could be more infectious or deadlier. With every day that the country, and the world, goes unvaccinated, the risk of a worse variant appearing remains. That creates even more pressure to go fast.