‘Two Americas’ may emerge as Delta variant spreads and vaccination rates drop
With Covid vaccination penetration in the US likely to fall short of Joe Biden’s 70% by Fourth of July target, pandemic analysts are warning that vaccine incentives are losing traction and that “two Americas” may emerge as the aggressive Delta variant becomes the dominant US strain.
Efforts to boost vaccination rates have come through a variety of incentives, from free hamburgers to free beer, college scholarships and even million-dollar lottery prizes. But of the efforts to entice people to get their shots have lost their initial impact, or failed to land effectively at all.
“It’s just not working,” Irwin Redlener at the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University, told Politico. “People aren’t buying it. The incentives don’t seem to be working – whether it’s a doughnut, a car or a million dollars.”
In Ohio, a program offering five adults the chance to win $1m boosted vaccination rates 40% for over a week. A month later, the rate had dropped to below what it had been before the incentive was introduced, Politico found.
Oregon followed Ohio’s cash-prize lead but saw a less dramatic uptick. Preliminary data from a similar lottery in North Carolina, launched last week, suggests the incentive is also not boosting vaccination rates there.
Public officials are sounding alarms that the window between improving vaccination penetration and the threat from the more severe Delta variant, which accounts for around 10% of US cases, is beginning to close. The Delta variant appears to be much more contagious than the original strain of Covid-19 and has wreaked havoc in countries like India and the United Kingdom.
“I certainly don’t see things getting any better if we don’t increase our vaccination rate,” Scott Allen of the county health unit in Webster, Missouri, told Politico. The state has seen daily infections and hospitalizations to nearly double over the last two weeks.
Overall, new US Covid cases have plateaued to a daily average of around 15,000 for after falling off as the nation’s vaccination program ramped up. But the number of first dose vaccinations has dropped to 360,000 from 2m in mid-April. A quarter of those are newly eligible 12- to 15-year-olds.
Separately, pandemic researchers are warning that a picture of “two Americas” is emerging – the vaccinated and unvaccinated – that in many ways might reflect red state and blue state political divides.
Only 52% of Republicans said they were partially or fully vaccinated, and 29% said they have no intention of getting a vaccine, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll. 77% of Democrats said they were already vaccinated, with just 5% responding that were resisting the vaccine.
“I call it two Covid nations,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told BuzzFeed News.
Bette Korber, a computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said she expected variant Delta to become the most common variant in the US within weeks. “It’s really moving quickly,” Korber told Buzzfeed.
On Friday, President Biden issued a plea to Americans who have not yet received a vaccine to do so as soon as possible.
“Even while we’re making incredible progress, it remains a serious and deadly threat,” Biden said in remarks from the White House, saying that the Delta variant leaves unvaccinated people “even more vulnerable than they were a month ago”.
“We’re heading into, God willing, the summer of joy, the summer of freedom,” Biden said. “On July 4, we are going to celebrate our independence from the virus as we celebrate our independence of our nation. We want everyone to be able to do that.”