Covid-19 Live Updates: News on Vaccines and Boosters

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

When the Covid vaccine first became widely available a year ago, it was a hopeful time when demand exceeded capacity and millions of Americans jockeyed to the nearest appointment point. But as of Monday, about a quarter of eligible adults were still not fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since last summer, the U.S. inoculation campaign has been bubbling, undermined by vaccine skepticism, party politics and misinformation. And warnings of another potential increase, driven by the new Omicron sub-variant, BA.2, may have little impact on vaccination rates.

“It’s very slow gains from here,” said Rupali Limaye, an associate scientist studying vaccine announcements at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Booster prices are even further behind. The emergence of Omicron in the late fall pushed federal regulators to extend booster eligibility, and some Americans rushed to get the extra dose.

But the booster campaign has stalled, with about half of eligible American adults still not being boosted from Monday, according to the CDC, people may be even less motivated now than before as masks fall off, restrictions are lifted and the public shifts in the direction of treating coronavirus as part of everyday life.

“People who send messages on behalf of public health agencies need to be more strategic,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Professor of Global Health and Infectious Diseases at Stanford University.

She said there have been too many mixed messages since vaccines became widely available. Public health communicators, she said, need to be clearer: that inoculations can save lives and can help prevent serious illness even in young people.

Public health agencies are also struggling with uncertainty over funding, with Congress not yet approving billions of dollars in new emergency aid for Covid. Previous aid packages went unconditional, but now most Republicans in Congress say they will not approve another aid package unless the White House finds a way to pay for it.

Among other things, it can stop efforts to help the Biden administration pay for vaccines, buy Covid treatments and reimburse doctors who take care of uninsured Covid patients.

“The challenges with funding cuts are that we need to make sure we have the tools in place to deal with any future increase,” said Joseph Allen, professor and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Experts said it should be renewed urgency for people to be vaccinated now that the US is preparing for another potential increase, driven by BA.2, which is sweeping through some European countries. Researchers say it does not appear to cause more serious illness than the Omicron subvariant BA.1.

In the United States, BA.2 accounted for 23 percent of new cases from March 6 to March 12, according to the CDC

“The booster and the vaccine are a way back for the country, no matter what happens next with BA.2,” said Dr. Allen.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed with reporting.

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