Coronavirus infections could be driven to low levels and the pandemic at least temporarily throttled in the United States by July if the vast majority of people get vaccinated and continue with precautions against viral transmission, according to a strikingly optimistic paper released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report comes as administration officials and leaders in many states are sounding more confident that the country can return to a degree of normalcy relatively soon. President Biden on Tuesday announced a new vaccination goal, saying he wants 70 percent of adults to have had at least one dose by July 4.
The CDC report is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it is a set of four scenarios based on modeling of the pandemic, using different assumptions about vaccination rates, vaccine efficacy and precautions against transmission. There are limitations to the modeling, like not considering vaccinations in April.
That model includes an assumption that 90 percent of those eligible for vaccine would get a shot, which Lessler acknowledged “may be on the optimistic side given rates of vaccine refusal in some areas.”
Infectious-disease experts caution that the number of new infections remains high. Variants of the virus could emerge with mutations that allow the pathogen to evade vaccines. Immunization hesitancy among large chunks of the population is another concern. High rates of vaccination seen in early April have come down during the past several weeks.
Officials stress that people and communities need to maintain some efforts, such as wearing masks, to limit viral transmission. But the new report suggests that vaccination is the key to everything.
Infection numbers have been dropping nationally since mid-April, and hospitalizations and deaths are also coming down, although more slowly. With more than half of U.S. adults having received at least one dose of vaccine, and with millions more having recovered from an infection, immunity to the coronavirus is increasingly widespread and impeding spread of the virus.
Working against that: the relaxation of public precautions and the rapid increase in social interactions as people emerge from relative isolation and resume, to some degree, their pre-pandemic lives. This is happening even as the virus is causing close to 50,000 new infections a day.
The pandemic will not be over even if the numbers drop to low levels this summer. A significant number of people have said they will not receive the vaccine. The number of “susceptibles” will remain in the tens of millions. The coronavirus will still find ways to circulate.