Vaccine Hesitancy Poses Risk to Herd Immunity, U.S. Health Officials Say – The Wall Street Journal

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Top health officials warned that vaccine hesitancy posed a risk to getting enough Americans inoculated to stop the spread of Covid-19, and they encouraged individuals to get vaccinated.

“If we’re going to be able to put Covid-19 behind us, we need to have all Americans take part in getting us to that point,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said separately that the U.S. has made good progress on vaccinations overall[1] but that the level of infections remains precarious at an average of nearly 60,000 daily cases[2] in the past week as of Friday. “We don’t want that to go up,” Dr. Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Dr. Collins highlighted pockets of the country that are falling behind on vaccinations.

“You can look at the map and say, ‘Where are vaccines lagging?’ Those are the places to worry about,” Dr. Collins said. “We could change that if we can really inspire everybody to get engaged.”

Both officials offered assurances on the safety of Johnson & Johnson[3]’s Covid-19 shot. U.S. health regulators on Friday said that vaccinations with J&J’s shot should resume[4], after they temporarily paused use of the shots while investigating rare blood-clotting cases.

Dr. Collins said those potential adverse events are very rare. “We clearly have a situation where the benefits greatly outweigh the risks,” he said.

Dr. Collins called for shifting the conversation around vaccinations to avoid scolding individuals. “I think maybe there’s been too much finger-wagging,” he said. “I’ve done some of that. I’m going to try to stop and listen, in fact, to what people’s specific questions are.”

The U.S. weekly average of vaccine doses administered, which has been generally rising since mid-December, ticked downward last week. The number of people receiving their first dose fell from a seven-day-average of 1.9 million April 11 to 1.4 million April 17.

Estimates have differed on how much of the population would need to be vaccinated to stop the virus from circulating, but many health experts are using 70% to 80% as a goal[5]. As of Thursday, 52% of adults in the U.S. had gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That proportion ranged from 72% in New Hampshire to 39% in Mississippi.

Dr. Fauci also said on Sunday that he expects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon issue updated guidelines on wearing masks outside.

“Obviously the risk is really very low, particularly if you’re vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said of outdoor activities.

Current CDC guidance[6] says, “Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with people who live in your household.”

A CDC representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky previously said on NBC’s “Today” that the agency is considering changing its guidance on wearing masks outdoors. But she cautioned that Covid-19 is still a threat[7].

States have implemented varying rules around wearing masks, which have also been at the center of political battles[8].

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, just over half of states had a mask mandate as of April 19. Mandates frequently include exceptions for when individuals are outdoors and able to distance themselves from others.

Write to Alexa Corse at[9]

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Appeared in the April 26, 2021, print edition as ‘Vaccine Hesitancy Worries Officials.’

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