(CNN) — With a growing number of COVID-19 vaccines in the US, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. But right now, experts say working to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases is critical, for a number of reasons.
Not enough people are protected from the virus yet – only about 13.5% of the US population is fully vaccinated – and a dangerous variant that is spreading rapidly could fuel another wave of infections.
“We must act now, and I am concerned that if we do not take the right action now, we will have another preventable increase, just as we are seeing in Europe right now and just as we are increasing vaccination so aggressively,” the director said Monday. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
And high levels of infection now could also spell trouble for vaccines later, an expert told CNN on Monday.
“Uncontrolled spread not only causes preventable illness, hospitalization, and death, it increases the risk of an even more dangerous variant emerging that could make the vaccine less effective,” said former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.
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Travel and crowds tend to cause surges
While vaccines are being implemented, Frieden says Americans should continue to take precautions, such as wearing face masks and limiting travel and being indoors with people who are not part of their home.
“When people travel and get together, you can see a huge increase in infections a couple of weeks later,” he added.
Despite warnings from health officials, some Americans are doing both.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened more than 1.5 million people at airports across the country on Sunday, a new pandemic-era record that surpasses the one set just two days earlier.
Meanwhile, spring breakers are flocking to popular destinations like Florida, where Miami Beach officials declared a state of emergency and established a curfew in response to crowds the mayor said have been “more than that we can handle.
All of this while local governors and leaders across the country are loosening covid-19 restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
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Vaccines have already saved thousands of lives
Frieden says he believes the US will likely see another increase, but this will be “much less deadly” due to the vaccines that are being given.
So far, more than 82.7 million Americans have received at least one dose of the covid-19 vaccine and more than 44.9 million have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the CDC.
“We estimate that vaccination has already saved at least 40,000 lives in the United States,” Frieden said. “These are really good vaccines and the sooner we get them out, the better.”
So far, three covid-19 vaccines have received the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the only one of the three that requires a single injection.
And a fourth vaccine could be on the way soon. AstraZeneca is expected to apply for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine in the coming weeks.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine was 79% effective against symptomatic diseases and 100% effective against serious illnesses and hospitalizations in a new US-based clinical trial, the company said Monday.
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However, the independent board reviewing data from multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates expressed concern about the findings, according to a release released early Tuesday by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The Data Safety and Monitoring Board (DSMB) “expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data,” the statement said.
“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the effectiveness data and ensure that the most accurate and up-to-date effectiveness data is released as soon as possible,” he added.
Previously, AstraZeneca said it expected to distribute 50 million doses in a month if it gets the emergency use authorization.
“We plan to submit to the FDA in the first half of April, assuming the FDA is very supportive of our submission,” Ruud Dobber, president of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceutical business unit, told CNN in a statement.
“After an FDA approval, we will instantly release 30 million doses in that first phase, and then, in the same month, another 20 million,” the statement added.
Recommendations for fully vaccinated people
Americans who are already fully vaccinated should feel free to visit unvaccinated family and friends without restrictions, CDC officials said Monday. But they added that visits should be limited to one unvaccinated household at a time.
«In the context that unvaccinated people belong to a single household, and all unvaccinated people have a low risk of severe disease from covid-19, no preventive measures are needed, so these visits could be carried out indoors no mask or physical distancing, ”said Tami Skoff, a CDC epidemiologist.
For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit their unvaccinated daughter and unvaccinated children indoors and without masks, assuming neither of them is at increased risk of serious illness, Skoff said.
The recommendations only apply to people who are fully vaccinated, Skoff said, meaning it has been at least two weeks since the second dose of a two-dose or two-week series of vaccines since they received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from single dose.
“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have an asymptomatic infection and therefore potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to other people,” said Skoff.
But there are two important exceptions that would require everyone to follow safety precautions: if any of the unvaccinated people are at high risk for severe covid-19, or if there are more than two unvaccinated households mixing.
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One third of hospitalized patients experience long-term effects
Researchers are also trying to understand more about the long-term sequelae of infections and how many people can be affected.
About a third of hospitalized COVID-19 patients experience long-term effects that can affect multiple organ systems, according to a comprehensive review of scientific studies published Monday in the journal. Nature Medicine.
The researchers reviewed the scientific literature on post-acute covid-19, that is, complications caused by the virus that extend beyond four weeks after the onset of symptoms.
The effects of “long covid” can impact more than half a dozen organ systems, including the pulmonary, hematologic, cardiovascular, neuropsychiatric, renal, dermatologic, gastrointestinal and endocrine systems, studies show.
Among the most common prolonged symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, mental confusion, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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The researchers suggested a framework for caring for these patients through multidisciplinary covid clinics and commended the work of patient advocacy groups, including the Covid Advocacy Exchange, the Body Politic and Survivor Corps, for collecting data on patients’ symptoms and coordinate with researchers to help gather more information.
CNN’s Pete Muntean, Michael Nedelman, Ryan Prior, Christopher Rios, Ben Tinker and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism