(CNN) – Twenty-four states in the US have seen an increase of at least 10% in COVID-19 cases in the last week, as health experts and the federal government continue to push for more people to get vaccinated.
The rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus has only increased the pressure.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared Tuesday that the variant, first identified in India, has accounted for more than half of all new infections. by covid-19 in the country.
“We should think of the delta variant as the 2020 version of covid-19 on steroids,” Andy Slavitt, a former senior adviser to Joe Biden’s coronavirus response team, told CNN on Wednesday. “It’s twice as infectious. Fortunately, unlike in 2020, we really have a tool that stops the delta variant in its tracks: It’s called a vaccine.”
For fully vaccinated people, the variant “poses very little threat to you, you are very unlikely to get sick,” he explained.
Slavitt and other experts have said that full approval of vaccines by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could encourage more people to get vaccinated. Current vaccines distributed in the US are licensed for emergency use only. On Tuesday, Slavitt said full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine could come as soon as this month.
As of Wednesday, less than half of the American population was fully vaccinated.
In a grim reminder of the scale of the pandemic, data from Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday showed that more than 4 million people worldwide have died of COVID-19.
In all, three countries account for more than a third of all global deaths. The United States, with the highest number of fatalities, 606,000, represents 15% of the world total, followed by Brazil and India.
It is feared that there will be more variants if people do not get vaccinated
But the delta variant is not the only one that worries health experts.
“Right now what you want to know is who is getting sick, either from the delta variant or from any other variant: it is the people who have not been vaccinated,” Dr. Megan Ranney told CNN on Wednesday.
“I don’t want it to come to this, but I’m hopeful that these waves will propel more people in those states with low vaccination rates to finally go out and get vaccinated.”
Ranney, who is an ER physician at Rhode Island Hospital and an associate professor at Brown University, added that vaccinated people don’t have much to worry about, but offered disturbing insight into the current surge in cases.
“What worries me the most are the variants that are to come, and every time this virus is transmitted from one person to another, it has the opportunity to mutate. And it is only a matter of time before we have a variant against which vaccines already don’t protect us, “he explained.
Some experts have begun to wonder if it may be time to start doing tests on vaccinated people to ensure that the delta variant does not evade the effects of vaccines.
Current federal guidelines say that fully vaccinated people can refrain from routine testing. Studies and experts have also said that vaccines remain highly protective.
“I think we should now review this policy with the delta variant and determine if the current recommendations hold,” wrote Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in an email sent to CNN. on Wednesday.
The CDC only reports data for “advanced” infections that cause serious illness. That could mean that scientists and health authorities won’t know how many vaccinated people have mild or asymptomatic infections, and it will be very difficult to track whether a new variant like delta is causing more vaccine failures.
Local efforts to vaccinate continue
In a move to bring more vaccines into the arms, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said the state will provide $ 1 million in college scholarships starting July 12 for people ages 12 to 17 who get vaccinated. .
“I can’t imagine a better incentive than a college education,” said Dr. Jay Perman, the chancellor of the Maryland university system.
Two scholarships will be awarded each week for eight weeks through Labor Day, Hogan said, when four winners will be chosen. Hogan said winners will receive either a Maryland 529 prepaid college trust agreement, which locks in the tuition value for the future, or a Maryland 529 College investment plan.
The incentive is an effort by the Maryland Department of Health and the Department of Higher Education.
More than half of Maryland residents ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, according to state health data.
The announcement comes as the state said in a tweet that all of the COVID-19 deaths in Maryland last month occurred in unvaccinated people.
Additionally, 95% of new COVID-19 cases in the state, as well as 93% of new hospitalizations, occurred in unvaccinated people, according to Michael Ricci, the governor’s communications director.
With input from Deidre McPhillips, Jacqueline Howard, Keri Enriquez, Virginia Langmaid, and Hannah Sarisohn.