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US COVID vaccinations rise to levels not seen since the spring

Amya Feltus, 13, held her mother's hand after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination dose at a clinic in New Orleans.
Amya Feltus, 13, held her mother's hand after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination dose at a clinic in New Orleans.Mario Tama/Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty I

The number of people getting a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine has risen to almost half a million a day, a level last seen at the end of May when the U.S. vaccination campaign was still in full swing in much of the country.

Unlike the spring rollout, however, the new bump in vaccinations has been driven by counties in the South, which earlier in the year were among the most resistant to getting the shots and still have lower rates of vaccination than many other places.

Those regions, however, have been hit by a fast-moving wave of Covid infections that have sent thousands of people to the hospital.

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In the southeastern U.S., the number of people being hospitalized with Covid-19 each day has reached record levels, eclipsing the peak previously seen over the winter. In an eight-state region that includes Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina, about 4,600 people a day are being admitted to the hospital each day. Much of the wave of cases has been driven by the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, which now makes up the majority of cases in the U.S.

On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee urged residents to get a Covid-19 shot. The state has been a laggard; only 47% of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The average across the U.S. is 60%.

“The most important tool we have to fight the pandemic is a vaccine,” said Lee, a Republican. “I encourage Tennesseans who have not been vaccinated to talk to their doctor to consider getting vaccinated and to make an informed decision.”

Read more: Get the latest vaccine data from the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker

People in the region appear to be listening to the message, which has been repeated widely by government officials and local health leaders as cases have surged.

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Bloomberg analyzed county vaccination rates since July 1, looking at the 200 counties with the highest per capita rates of vaccination. Out of those 200 leading counties, 61 are in Mississippi; 47 are in Arkansas, and another 31 are in Louisiana. New York, for comparison, has only one county in the top 200 over the last month and a half.

Those numbers may look like good news, but they’re in part a factor of how far those states have to go to achieve robust levels of vaccination. Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana still have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, while New York is among the highest.

But even in New York, local officials are attempting to improve rates. Some areas of New York City have vaccination rates as low as the South, and on Monday Mayor Bill de Blasio urged more people to get vaccinated, in particular the young.

“We have one mission now on our pathway to recovery, defeat delta,” de Blasio, a Democrat, said at a press conference. “One of the biggest areas of concern is reaching younger New Yorkers, our 20-somethings, 30-somethings who need to be convinced that it's so powerful to be vaccinated.”

The delta variant of the virus that has driven much of the new wave of cases has also led the U.S. to prepare for the rollout of booster shots for those who have already been vaccinated. Evidence has accumulated that protection from the vaccines may fade over time, and the Biden administration has been preparing to get a third dose of a vaccine for many Americans.

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At the current pace of vaccinations, the U.S. is still about five months away from having given enough shots to cover three-quarters of the population, a benchmark experts have pointed to as necessary to have widespread suppression of the virus. That target may need to rise because of how easily the delta variant of Covid spreads.

While the U.S. campaign appears to be gaining momentum again, it still lags behind Canada, the European Union, China and many other countries that it once led in the vaccine race.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.