Joe Biden makes this Sunday (4) the most important and symbolic event of his nearly six months in power. With 1,000 guests at the White House, the President of the United States will officially celebrate the country’s return to normalcy, after 16 months of a pandemic and more than 600,000 deaths from Covid-19.
Biden wants to commemorate American Independence Day as the start of what he calls “the summer of freedom” under the 17-minute fireworks display located in Washington.
But among the colors that are expected to cut the skies over the capital, at least two factors continue to worry health officials inside and outside the government: the advance of the delta variant, the most contagious strain in the country. coronavirus, and the slower pace of vaccination in parents.
The Democrat failed to meet the goal of vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one dose until Sunday, as he had promised three months ago – the rate was around 67%. If you count the fully vaccinated, the level is 58% among those who are 18 years of age or older, and 47% if you consider the entire American population.
The data are positive, according to specialists, but still insufficient to declare the independence of the virus, as the president wants to do. Indeed, the delta mutation, initially identified in India, has spread rapidly in the states of the South and the American Midwest, pockets of vaccine resistance and where, in several cases, 50% of the inhabitants are not immunized.
According to the New York Times, 22 of the 50 US states, including the capital, Washington, have vaccinated 70% or more of their adult populations with at least one dose, providing some peace of mind amid the pandemic, but there is a risk of further outbreaks in areas where these rates are lower.
University of California, Berkeley infectious disease expert John Swartzberg said most Americans will celebrate July 4 as if the pandemic is over, but warns the United States “is an island in an ocean of diseases ”.
Although still the world leader in the number of cases (33.7 million) and deaths (over 605,000) by Covid, the country has pulled away from much of the globe as it witnesses the sharp drop in transmissions, hospitalizations and deaths due to the national vaccination campaign. The average number of new cases per day, for example, is 12,000 – there were 200,000 on the day of Biden’s inauguration, Jan. 20 -, and the average number of deaths is less than 300 per day, in a country which experienced peaks of 4,000 victims in 24 hours at the start of the year.
“The latest data suggests that the delta variant accounts for around 25% of Covid cases in the United States today, but by August the mutation will likely be the dominant strain across the country,” the Berkeley professor said . He also explains that Americans are repeating the experience in the UK, where the mutation is responsible for 90% of cases and has increased transmissions and hospitalizations despite high vaccination rates in the country.
“In communities that are highly vaccinated and where many immunized people have already been infected, the celebrations will not cause major damage. In those that are not highly vaccinated and have low post-infection immunity, we are likely to see epidemics. “
Polls show that about a third of Americans say they will not get vaccinated. Among the obstacles are the imbalance in vaccination rates between different racial groups – blacks and Latinos are historically more resistant to vaccines – and the challenge of convincing those who refuse to receive the dose or are still undecided.
Swartzberg says he believes the looming danger of the Delta could reverse that scenario and cause the United States to achieve the 75% vaccination required for so-called herd immunity. More skeptical experts, however, are not so optimistic and say the country should not exceed 70% of the population vaccinated.
“This is our problem for the last few kilometers, and it will require a considerable effort, in addition to what we are doing now,” explains the professor. “But I think, ironically, the consequence of the likely increase in cases from the delta may be the boost that many people were missing who are now reluctant to get vaccinated.”
The two main vaccines administered in the United States, Pfizer and Moderna, have been shown to be effective in containing the new mutation, and the general mood in the country has been with some normality since the end of April, when fully vaccinated Americans were released from wearing a mask by health authorities. Now Biden wants to mark the return of big events and normal life in America for good, but he may have to recalibrate his plans once again.
In March, the president was already announcing July 4 as the turning point in the health crisis, but was considering smaller celebrations, with family and small groups of friends. In early May, after successfully administering 200 million doses in his first 100 days in office, he surrounded himself with optimism and promised that 70% of adults would be vaccinated with a dose by the feast of the year. ‘independence.
But soon reality imposed itself. The pace of vaccination began to drop rapidly, and the average of more than 3 million requests per day seen in April fell to less than 1 million in June.
Two weeks ago, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients was due to announce the government’s new goal: to ensure that 70% of Americans aged 27 and over receive the first dose of the vaccine. by July 4 – and no more at all for those over 18.
According to aides, however, the new target does not erase the country’s achievements so far, and the president has remained open to receiving essential workers, military personnel and their families at the White House because he wanted to show that , on many fronts, “he went above and beyond”.
Under Biden’s encouragement, thousands of people are expected to gather at the National Mall on Sunday, with food and drinks awaiting the fireworks display. A few meters away, he is expected to deliver a speech praising his government’s response to the pandemic, but he will have to go further to vaccinate more Americans and prevent the summer of freedoms from giving way to an autumn of restrictions.