Heads of state have offered incentives ranging from free beer to lottery tickets to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
CDC data shows 63.7% of Americans have received their first dose of the vaccine – but misunderstandings about the dangers of transmission and the need to be vaccinated could put more people at risk, Jha said.
“I understand that in the short term we can get by with slow vaccination rates,” he explained. “But these people are really vulnerable – once we have more variants circulating in the United States – to be re-infected and potentially very sick.”
But while people who have been infected may think they now have natural immunity, they may overlook the danger posed by the variants, Jha said.
Misunderstandings around vaccines cause hesitation
In Mississippi, the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, the governor attributed residents’ reluctance to the idea of natural immunity.
Data from the CDC shows that less than 45% of adults in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 35.7% are fully immunized.
“We have about a million Mississippians who have natural immunity and because of that there are very, very few viruses in our state,” Governor Reeves told CNN on Sunday.
Reeves and his wife have both been vaccinated and he said he believes the vaccine to be safe and effective. However, the governor called Biden’s target “arbitrary” and said the 320,000 Mississippians who tested positive for the virus may have natural immunity.
The governor has said the number of cases and hospitalizations are down significantly in his state, so while he encourages people to get vaccinated, he believes people have the right to make their own choices.
“It’s a bit of a misunderstanding that unfortunately a lot of people have,” Jha said. “There’s this idea that if you’ve been infected, you have natural immunity and you don’t need to be vaccinated.
“There is no doubt in my mind that vaccine-induced immunity is much longer lasting and will resist variants much better,” he added.
The CDC released data on Monday that showed that even rare breakthrough infections – people who test positive for Covid-19 despite being vaccinated – create a milder response to the disease.
People who got “breakthrough” infections after one or two doses of the vaccine had 40% less virus in their body and were 58% less likely to have a fever. They also spent two days less in bed than unvaccinated Covid-19 patients, according to the study.
“The only way to be protected is to be fully vaccinated,” Jha said, adding that people should receive both vaccines. “That’s why everyone needs a second dose.”
Ongoing debate on vaccine passports
As authorities push to increase vaccination rates, debate looms over proof of vaccination, with some heads of state saying they would not mandate them and others outright banning them as many Americans start to travel for the first time since the pandemic.
New York was the first state to issue a digital vaccine passport using IBM’s Excelsior Pass app that displays a personalized QR code verifying vaccine status. The app was tested during sports matches in March.
In April, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the federal government would not issue a vaccination passport.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed a bill prohibiting companies from requiring customers to provide proof that they have been vaccinated.
“Texas is 100% open,” Abbott said when he signed Senate Bill 968. “We want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want with no limits.”
Abbott said “No business or government entity can require a person to provide a vaccine passport or other vaccine information as a condition of receiving a service or entering a place.”
Abbott’s signing came on the same day Carnival Cruise Line confirmed it would resume operations in the Texas port of Galveston on July 3.
Carnival currently requires proof of vaccination as part of its protocol for passengers.
“We are evaluating recently enacted legislation in Texas regarding vaccine information,” the company said. “The law provides exceptions when a company implements COVID protocols in accordance with federal law, which is consistent with our plans to comply with guidelines from the United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. “
Moderna says 5-year-olds could get vaccinated by fall
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are advancing their research to expand access to vaccines for younger people.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said on Monday his vaccine would likely be available to children as young as five by early fall.
“I think it will be early fall, just because we have to age very slowly and carefully,” Bancel said at an event on the Clubhouse social media platform.
Bancel noted that the process will take time as it determines the appropriate dosages for small children. “We expect data to be available in the September / October period,” he said.
Data from 43,465 Covid-19 patients aged 18 and under who visited an emergency department or were hospitalized showed those with underlying health conditions were more likely to suffer from serious illness or hospitalization, with about 28.7% of all these patients having underlying health issues.
Of the 4,302 hospitalized, more than 2,700, 62.9%, had underlying health problems, the researchers noted.
Patients with type 1 diabetes and obesity were the most likely to be hospitalized, while those born prematurely were more likely to have severe Covid-19 disease, the data showed.
The report suggests that this information should be taken into account when setting immunization priorities and regulations.
CNN’s Keith Allen, Lauren Mascarenhas, Jamiel Lynch and Nicollette Higgs contributed to this report.