Guest Editorial: Pa. can reach key vaccine milestone

President Joe Biden wants 70 percent of U.S. adults to have at least one COVID-19 shot by July 4.

Close to 160 million Americans—48 percent of the population—have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 125 million are fully vaccinated against the virus.

The highest vaccination rates are concentrated in the Northeast, while the lowest ones are mostly in the South. Experts say the gap reflects a multitude of factors, including political leanings, religious beliefs and education and income levels. White evangelicals are among the groups least likely to be vaccinated.

New England and Northeastern states account for eight of the top 10 in vaccination rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 64 percent of this population has received at least one dose, with Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Mexico all at 54 percent or higher.

Gov. Tom Wolf said he plans to remove the state’s mask mandates when 70 percent of adults in the state are fully vaccinated.

Health experts say the state is on pace to reach the 70 percent threshold.

“We will be at 50 percent by the end of the month for the whole country,” said Dr. Tariq Cheema, Allegheny Health Network’s director of pulmonary, critical care, allergy and sleep medicine. “Pennsylvania may be sooner than that, because we’ve been vaccinating at a higher pace than other places in the country, so by the summer I would say most of us will be at 70 percent or above.”

Cheema said overcoming vaccine hesitancy will be the biggest obstacle moving forward, now that doses are readily available.

Wolf should be commended for setting a benchmark for the state that appears to be attainable.

The more contagious a virus, the more people must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

The encouraging news is that COVID-19 deaths in the United States have declined to an average of around 600 per day—the lowest level in 10 months—with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and, on some days, hitting zero.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said that vaccinations have played a crucial role even as the nation struggles to reach herd immunity.

“The primary objective is to deny this virus the ability to kill at the rate that it could, and that has been achieved,” he said. “We have in effect tamed the virus.”

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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