With the number of new cases and high infection rates with low vaccination rates, public health entities are considering administering a booster shot to vulnerable populations.
“Last week, the FDA and CDC said they will authorize a third dose for people who have an immune system problem,” said Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“This will be for somebody who has had a kidney transplant or who has cancer and is on strong chemotherapy.”
As for the rest of the population, Collins and other public health officials are constantly looking at the data to figure out if the current vaccines are strong enough to fight the delta variant.
“So far, it looks like our current vaccines provide good protection against COVID-19,” Collins said. “In the future, boosters will potentially be offered, initially to healthcare providers and elderly people but maybe after a while, it will be open to everyone who has been vaccinated to boost the immune system.”
There have been 129,000 new COVID-19 infections a day on a seven-day national average, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“The infection rates are on the way up and it’s not the top of the peak of the spike that we are seeing,” Collins said.
“I would not be surprised if it hit 200,000 in the next couple of weeks.”
Missouri has faced criticism for having the lowest vaccination rates in the country. While over 45% of St. Louis County residents are fully vaccinated, there are significant disparities across ZIP codes, public health officials said in early August.
“Missouri has had a lot of this fall on their shoulders in the last month,” Collins said. “The unvaccinated people have the highest risk from what we see right now.
Campaigns like “We Can Do This” or “Sleeves Up STL” have worked to educate African Americans about COVID-19 and to encourage vaccination.
Collins recognized that there has been a history of mistrust between health care and the Black community.
“With African Americans, I can understand some distrust since the healthcare system has not been fair to people of color,” Collins said. “I can see the perspective of people who have suffered from health disparities for a long time; this doesn’t seem like the kind of message that they can embrace without a little more information, which makes sense.”
Collins has previously noted that the NIH’s over 40,000 member staff and the greater science research community have responded to everything from vaccines and testing to mental health and health disparities.
“When we ran the trials on this vaccine, which I had a lot to do with, we made sure that for Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the participation was like a snapshot of the country,” Collins said. “Thirty-seven percent of one of the trials included participants who were people of color. You can look at the trial that showed the vaccine was safe and effective, you could also look at that trial and see yourself no matter who you are.”
Even with the vaccines, the delta variant has shown itself to be more contagious than the initial COVID-19 strain from 2020.
“This [variant] is three times more contagious than the previous COVID-19 we dealt with for the past year,” Collins said. “To someone who is infected, anybody around them is at high risk of getting infected; if they are not vaccinated, they are at high risk of getting very sick and ending up in the hospital or the ICU.”
According to the NIH, there have been about 500 deaths a day from COVID-19, which are attributed to the delta variant.
Data show that hospitalizations and infection rates are also on an upward trend. According to Collins, there is a “surprising number of young Americans who are being hospitalized for COVID-19.”
“There are 20-year-olds on ventilators,” Collins said. “The people we see affected by COVID-19 are relatively young in the ICU.”
Vaccines have been proven to be the best defense against the virus. On Saturday, one million people received the vaccine nationally, which is the highest number public health officials have seen in a month — but Collins says this is just not enough.
“We need to vaccinate one million people per day, especially in places like Missouri where the virus is running wild; I hope people will look at this, ignore all of the misinformation circulating on social media, including how it has a chip in it or will make you infertile which is not true, and get the vaccine,” Collins said.