Biden urges July Fourth celebration but COVID concerns remain

Health officials raise concerns over disparities in vaccinations, as 1,000 US counties have rates below 30 percent.

A person wears US regalia to celebrate Independence Day in New York City on July 4 [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

Joe Biden says Americans have reason to celebrate this Fourth of July, but the United States president has fallen short of his goal of getting 70 percent of people vaccinated against COVID-19 by the country’s independence day holiday on Sunday.

Sixty-seven percent of US adults have received at least one jab, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while 58.1 percent of those over age 18 are considered fully vaccinated.

Twenty US states have partially vaccinated at least 70 percent of their adult populations by July 4, CNN reported.

“This is a holiday weekend,” Biden told reporters on Friday as he parried journalists’ “negative” questions about the continuing US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. “I’m going to be celebrating it.”

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 are at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust US vaccination programme. Businesses and restaurants are open, hiring is picking up and travel is getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Biden is set to host the largest event yet of his presidency on Sunday, with first responders, military families and others expected to attend a cookout and fireworks display on the South Lawn of the White House.

Still, more than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, a more infectious variant of the virus is spreading rapidly at home and abroad, and tens of millions of Americans have chosen not to get the life-saving vaccines.

“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St Louis Board of Health.

“If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it,” she told The Associated Press news agency. “But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this country is in a significantly better place.”

US health officials are raising concerns about the gap between heavily vaccinated communities and lesser-vaccinated ones, with top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci saying on Sunday that most recent coronavirus hospitalisations and deaths are among unvaccinated people.

“The overwhelming proportion of people who get into trouble are the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we say this is really entirely avoidable and preventable,” Fauci said in an interview with NBC News’ Meet the Press programme.

Luis Marquez, 33, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination drive for essential food processing workers in Los Angeles, California, in March [File: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]

About 1,000 counties have a vaccination rate below 30 percent and the federal government is warning that they could become the next hot spots as virus restrictions ease.

The Biden administration is sending “surge” teams to the US states of Colorado and Missouri.

Additional squads of infectious disease experts, public health professionals and doctors and nurses are getting ready to assist in additional locations with a combination of low vaccination rates and rising cases.

Fauci on Sunday urged people to put their differences aside and get vaccinated. He said the emergence of the Delta variant in the US appears to be leading to more serious disease, to hospitalisations and in some cases, to deaths.

“As a nation as a whole, we are doing very well,” Fauci told Meet the Press. “But we have a big country with disparity in the willingness to be vaccinated, so there are some states where the level of vaccination of individuals is 35 percent or less; under those circumstances you might expect to see spikes in certain regions, in certain states, cities or counties.

“We’re going to see … almost two types of America: those regions of America which are highly vaccinated, where we have a low level of dynamics of infection. And in some places … where the level of vaccination is low and the level of virus dissemination is high, that’s where you’re going to see the spikes.”

Source: Al Jazeera, AP