Vaccine hesitancy has become the predominant mindset of Americans who have not yet been inoculated, making the drive for herd immunity ever more elusive.
Just 11% of American adults who remain unvaccinated say they definitely will get the shot, while 34% say they definitely won’t, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Another 27% say they probably will and 27% say they probably won’t.
The vaccination rush has slowed, and President Joe Biden is meeting virtually with six governors today to discuss how to revive momentum. Biden wants 70% of Americans vaccinated by the 4th of July. That’s about what some experts say is needed to get the pandemic under control. Right now less than half of Americans had received at least one shot.
Getting kids vaccinated could help the numbers. Adolescents 12 to 15 could qualify for shots as soon as Thursday after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the age group.
Biden said last week that 20,000 pharmacy locations are ready to begin vaccinating adolescents once the necessary approvals come through.
Older teens, 16 and 17, have been allowed to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since it was authorized in December. The other two vaccines authorized for use in the USA, from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have not been available to minors because studies are still underway.
Also in the news:
►Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that she is cutting, effective June 12, federal unemployment insurance benefits that were created at the start of the pandemic last year. Reynolds believes the increased payments are holding back the economy. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says she will end Alabama’s participation in federal unemployment programs on June 19.
►The USS Constitution will make its way across Boston Harbor and reopen to the public on May 21, the Navy announced. Public visits to the ship known as Old Ironsides, which was launched in 1797, were suspended in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.
►Rhode Island expects to allow children 12 or over who have parental consent to schedule vaccinations starting Tuesday, state officials said. Jabs could begin by week’s end.
►The president of El Salvador says he will donate coronavirus vaccines to seven towns in Honduras even though his own country’s vaccination effort is still struggling.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 582,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 159 million cases and 3.3 million deaths. More than 329.8 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 261.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 115.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 34.8% of the population.
📘 What we’re reading: A year full of social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing, and staying at home to prevent coronavirus spread rendered the 2020-2021 influenza season practically nonexistent. Read more here.
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In India, scores of bodies found floating on Ganges River
More than 70 dead bodies have been found floating down the Ganges River in eastern India as the country battles a the world’s most severe coronavirus crisis. Images on social media prompted outrage and speculation that COVID-19 was the cause of death, although authorities said post mortems could not confirm it because of the decomposition of the bodies.
Indian health care and funeral facilities have been overwhelmed in recent weeks as hospitals run out of oxygen and crematoriums operate 24 hours a day. Surinder, a resident of Ghazipur who uses one name, told the Associated Press that villagers didn’t have enough wood to cremate their dead on land.
“Bodies from around 12-13 villages have been buried in the water,” he said.
Schools scramble to get high school seniors on pace to graduate
There isn’t data available yet on how the pandemic has affected the nation’s overall dropout rate, and many school officials say it’s too early to know how many students who stopped logging on for distance learning don’t plan to return. But soaring numbers of students who are failing classes or are chronically absent have experts fearing the worst, and schools have been busy tracking down wayward seniors through social media, knocking on their doors, assigning staff to help them make up for lost time and, in some cases, even relaxing graduation requirements.
The pandemic’s effects could erase gains the U.S. made in reducing its dropout rate, which fell from 9.3% in 2007 to 5.1% in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“If we lose a student, it is going to be after kicking and screaming and fighting tooth and nail for them,” said Troy Pitsch, who supervises high school principals in Kansas City, Kansas.
What level of antibodies protect against COVID? It’s not yet known
Fifteen months after the pandemic shut down most of the world, researchers are still trying to determine how much of a specific type of antibodies a person needs to avoid serious illness, hospitalization or death. It’s something scientists the world over would find extremely useful as more vaccines, and possible boosters, are created. The information would help to quickly show if a vaccine was effective enough, without the need for large-scale, lengthy trials.
“All you’d have to do is vaccinate people with a new vaccine, measure their antibodies and you’re done,” biostatistician Dr. Peter Gilbert says. “And you could do it with maybe 400 people instead of 40,000.”
– Elizabeth Weise
Education Department to fund college retainment
The Education Department will release $36 billion to colleges nationally to help universities and students struggling during the pandemic. The funds are a part of the American Rescue Plan, and half of the funding is meant to go directly to students.
In addition to the direct grants, the department said colleges can use the money to retain students or help re-enroll those who dropped out because of the pandemic. Colleges could also use the money to help vaccinate students or prevent the spread of the coronavirus on campus. Public and private nonprofit universities can use some of the funding to offset costs related to the pandemic such as lost revenue, expenses tied to providing online education or faculty and staff training. For-profit colleges must direct all the money they receive to students directly.
International students and DACA recipients excluded from previous emergency funding under former President Donald Trump are included in the program, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.
Biden, 6 governors to chat about regaining vaccination momentum
President Joe Biden will talk with three Democratic and three Republican governors Tuesday about innovative ways to get more people vaccinated. Biden will meet virtually with the leaders of Ohio, Utah, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico to share best practices as the administration moves toward its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.
More than half of all residents in Massachusetts, Maine and New Mexico have gotten at least one shot, ranking among the top 10 states. Ohio and Utah are in the bottom half of the states for vaccination rates.
– Maureen Groppe
Novavax plans to present US data on its vaccine soon
Novavax, the Maryland-based biotech firm whose vaccine has performed well in clinical trials in the U.K. and South Africa, expects to release data about its U.S. study “in a few weeks” but won’t be ready to seek regulatory approval until sometime in the second half of the year. CEO Stanley Erck told USA TODAY that Novavax has been addressing production issues that have prevented the company from manufacturing the vaccine to scale, and that it remains “on track” to file a request for emergency use authorization with the FDA.
In a quarterly report released Monday, Novavax said it intends to seek that clearance and also the OK from European regulatory agencies by the third quarter. The company also revised down its anticipated capacity to 100 million doses per month by the end of September. Novavax has a production and manufacturing deal with the Serum Institute of India and its vaccine is widely anticipated in developing countries.
Contributing to this column: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press