Half of the population of the European Union has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) tally Tuesday, putting it ahead of the United States in the inoculation drive.
Nearly 224 million people across the 27 member states have been covered, with Spain leading the pack of larger countries with 58.3 percent of its population vaccinated, followed by Italy (54.4 percent), France (52.9) and Germany (52.2). The figures mean Europe has now nosed ahead of the U.S. in the vaccine drive. Some 49.7% of the U.S. population are fully vaccinated, but take-up is slowing particularly in the conservative states of the South and Midwest.
The U.S. on Monday finally reached President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into 70% of American adults – a month late and amid a fierce surge by the delta variant that is swamping hospitals and leading to new mask rules and mandatory vaccinations around the country.
In a major retreat in the Deep South, Louisiana ordered nearly everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks again in all indoor public settings, including schools and universities. And other cities and states likewise moved to reinstate precautions to counter a crisis blamed on the fast-spreading variant and the stubborn resistance to getting the vaccine.
“As quickly as we can discharge them they’re coming in and they’re coming in very sick. We started seeing entire families come down,” lamented Dr. Sergio Segarra, chief medical officer of Baptist Hospital Miami. The Florida medical-center chain reported an increase of over 140% in the past two weeks in the number of people now hospitalized with the virus.
Biden had set a vaccination goal of 70% by the Fourth of July. That figure was the low end of initial government estimates for what would be necessary to achieve herd immunity in the U.S. But that has been rendered insufficient by the highly contagious delta variant, which has enabled the virus to come storming back.
There was was no celebration at the White House on Monday, nor a setting of a new target, as the administration instead struggles to overcome skepticism and outright hostility to the vaccine, especially in the South and other rural and conservative areas.
New cases per day in the U.S. have increased sixfold over the past month to an average of nearly 80,000, a level not seen since mid-February. And deaths per day have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 259 to 360.
Those are still well below the 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day seen during the worst of the outbreak, in January. But some places around the country are watching caseloads reach their highest levels since the pandemic began. And nearly all deaths and serious illnesses now are in unvaccinated people.
The surge has led states and cities across the U.S. to beat a retreat, just weeks after it looked as if the country was going to see a close-to-normal summer.
According to The Associated Press (AP), White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a nationwide vaccination requirement “is not on the table,” but noted that employers have the right to take such a step.
The United States has also fallen behind its northern neighbor Canada, which started its immunization campaign later but has now fully vaccinated 59% of its people.
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