- Dr. Ali Khanepidemiologist and the dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The White House says it will miss its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. Vaccinations are available for anyone age 12 and up in the U.S., but just 45% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, and only 16 states have fully vaccinated more than half of their populations. Epidemiologist Dr. Ali Khan says despite more than 150 million people in the U.S. now being vaccinated against the coronavirus, the highly contagious Delta variant is quickly becoming a concern. “Our expectation should be, by July, this will be the dominant variant,” he says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González,, as we turn now to the coronavirus. We look at growing concerns that the highly contagious Delta variant could cause new surges of COVID-19 here in the United States and worldwide. White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci issued this warning Tuesday.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: We are not done until we completely crush this outbreak. … The Delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19. Good news: Our vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. Conclusion: We have the tools, so let’s use them and crush the outbreak.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the White House says it will miss its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4th. Vaccinations are available for anyone ages 12 and up in the United States, but just 45% of Americans are fully vaccinated. Only 16 states have fully vaccinated more than half of their populations. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization warned the Delta variant is fast becoming the dominant source of new COVID-19 cases globally.
For more, we’re joined by Dr. Ali Khan, epidemiologist and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He’s the former director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and the author of The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers.
Dr. Khan, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, explain what the Delta variant is and why it is so significant when it comes to low number of vaccinations throughout the South and in states like Utah and Missouri.
DR. ALI KHAN: Thank you, Amy. Always a pleasure to chat with you.
So, before talking about the Delta variant, let’s actually talk a little bit about the good news: 150 million Americans that have been fully vaccinated here in the United States, and after a two-week pause, we — a stall of cases, we’re slowly seeing cases come back down again in the United States.
Now, unfortunately, there are multiple states that have not been very aggressive in vaccinating people. And what we’re seeing now is cases, small outbreaks in areas where there have not been good vaccination.
The Delta variant. So, the virus mutates all the time, and it has multiple different types of variants. Sometimes those variants become variants of concern because they’re more infectious, more deadly, or don’t respond to our treatments very well. And Delta is one of those variants. If we were — when we had this conversation two, three months ago, we were talking about the Alpha variant, which quickly, within eight weeks, became the dominant variant in the United States. And now this Delta variant is 60% more infectious than the Alpha variant, definitely leads to, looks like, more severe disease. And while the vaccine is very effective for severe disease, it’s not as effective for mild disease. And this variant went from, I think, like 2.7% on May 22nd to now estimates are 20 to 30% currently, so in essentially less than a month. So, our expectation should be, by July, this will be the dominant variant.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Khan, I wanted to ask you about the broader picture, the worldwide picture now, with South America now being the epicenter of the COVID pandemic throughout the world — though 5% of the world’s population, I think more than 25% of the cases. And also, the fact that some countries that already have higher vaccination rates than those in the United States are still seeing surges in cases, largely because those countries have received the Chinese [vaccines], countries like Chile, Bahrain, Mongolia, which have up to 68% of their populations fully vaccinated, yet they’re seeing surges in cases.
DR. ALI KHAN: Thank you, Juan, for that question. So it’s actually two questions and maybe three. So, let’s do the first part.
So, while we had great news about vaccination here in the United States and in many other countries, that’s not true worldwide. So, worldwide, only about — there’s only been about 2.7 billion vaccines administered, and that’s 17% of the global population. So there’s a long way to go in vaccinating the rest of the world. And that inequity is showing up in lots of cases, and mainly, as you mentioned, in South America. So,, South America has seven of the — seven of the 10 countries with the most cases are in South America.
There’s also a second piece to that, which is that, undoubtedly, a number of countries that chose Chinese vaccines — the Sinovac vaccine, the Sinopharm vaccine — despite very high coverages, actually coverages as high as Israel, they’re seeing a lot of cases. Now, it’s not just probably because the vaccine doesn’t work. It has to do with, you know, how fast they opened up. But there is real concern that these vaccines may not be very effective. And I think it’s really important for those countries to continue to test how effective those vaccines are and not have a false sense of security because they have these high vaccine rates to think, “We’re fine,” because they’re absolutely not fine.
AMY GOODMAN: The World Health Organization said Monday it’s setting up a hub in South Africa to help poorer — to help poorer countries. Can you talk about the role the U.S. should be playing — poor and middle-income countries producing their own COVID-19 vaccines using the mRNA technology behind the world’s most effective shots?
DR. ALI KHAN: So, the U.S. has been playing a leadership role both from a multilateral standpoint and a bilateral standpoint. So, President Biden’s recent announcement of giving 500 million doses worldwide to the multilateral effort led by WHO pretty much puts the U.S. in the lead compared to any country in the world. So the U.S. has been showing dramatic leadership on a global stage in getting countries vaccinated. And then, bilaterally, for example, Taiwan just got 2 million, 2.5 million, or something, vaccines from the U.S. recently. So, bilaterally, the U.S. is also supporting countries based on their political alignments. We are also — the U.S. is also supporting India and other countries.
But I think there’s always more that can be done to help support local production of vaccines. And how can we support that with sort of patent issues to allow these vaccines to be made elsewhere and the know-how to do it? Because, let’s be honest, 40 million doses a day is going to take us years to vaccinate the world. And given how these variants keep popping up, unless we get cases down across the world, we’re at risk of just another variant coming into the United States and restarting our outbreak, and potentially a more deadly variant that doesn’t respond to our vaccines.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Khan, I’m wondering your advice on a question that many doctors are receiving now in terms of people with very young children, infants, toddlers, who are not yet eligible for any vaccine, the issue of returning to school in the fall, how their caregivers should be dealing with the children. Your advice?
DR. ALI KHAN: So, my advice is that we have lots of experience now globally and in the United States on how we can get our kids back in school safely. And the number one way to do that is make sure we all get vaccinated. So, every adult, every individual 12 and older, can get vaccinated. And when you get cases so low in the community, our younger kids, between 5 and 12, will not be at risk. So that’s the secret. Everybody who is eligible to get vaccinated needs to get out there and get vaccinated.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Dr. Rochelle Walensky addressed this yesterday — a few days ago about the — I guess there’s about 300 reported cases of myocarditis, of inflammation of the heart, among very young children. What is your concern about this?
DR. ALI KHAN: Today, following up on Dr. Walensky’s comments, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, which is an independent group that advises CDC and the United States on how to use vaccines, will be reviewing these 800 reports to see whether or not they believe there’s a link to the vaccine, and then what advice they need to give Americans. So, they’ll compare it to how often this usually occurs, how often it occurs with the vaccine, what the risk of the disease is, and how to protect kids. I think the good news has been that these cases have pretty much been very mild. But I’m looking forward to see the data today, so that we can make a more informed judgment about continuing to vaccinate kids, especially potentially kids less than 12 years of age.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 10 seconds, but there’s now this discussion of booster shots after eight months or a year in the United States, when so many countries in the world don’t even have access to any vaccines. Your comment?
DR. ALI KHAN: I think it’s premature to talk about booster shots until we truly know what the duration of the immunity is in the United States. And we may potentially get cases down so low that just routine public health measures could take care of it. So, a little premature to talk about booster shots.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dr. Ali Khan, we want to thank you so much for being with us, epidemiologist and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, former director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, author of The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers.
That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.