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COVID Vaccinations Are On The Rise Again, Says White House


White House COVID advisers say first-time vaccinations are now on the rise after a slowdown this summer. The White House says the increase is because of more vaccine mandates around the country. But is there enough data yet to recommend boosters for all? And as millions of unvaccinated children settle into a new school year, what's the best way to protect them? NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to talk about all this. And, Allison, to start, something like 74% of adults in the U.S. have gotten at least one shot of a COVID vaccine. And then people think that progress essentially stalled - in what way?

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Well, right now, more people are getting their first shot after a very slow July. White House COVID adviser Jeff Zients said today that back in mid-July, the U.S. is averaging about 500,000 shots a day. Now it's 900,000 shots a day. And vaccine mandates do appear to be driving this to some extent. Hundreds of universities and businesses are, of course, requiring vaccination. And Zients points to states that have mandates for employees.

JEFF ZIENTS: In Washington State, the weekly vaccination rate jumped 34% after the state announced vaccination requirements for state employees, teachers and school staff. Bottom line, vaccination requirements work.

AUBREY: He says there are now tens of millions of Americans facing a vaccine requirement.

CORNISH: Let's talk about boosters. The people who are into them are really into the idea of it.

AUBREY: Yes, that's right.

CORNISH: Yet after administration officials made a big splash with their announcement earlier this month that fully vaccinated people would be eligible for it, it's not clear it's a done deal. What's going on?

AUBREY: That's right. Well, some advisers to the CDC who serve on the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices said this week they need to review sufficient data before making a determination on boosters. The committee, for instance, will soon have the vaccine manufacturers present some data to them. But currently, the data are pretty limited, I'd say. Now, CDC Director Walensky was asked about this today, whether the administration had kind of gotten ahead of itself announcing this booster plan, and she really defended the decision. She pointed to data from other countries that the advisers have not yet reviewed that indicate the vaccine effectiveness is waning.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: It is our own data, as well as international data that has led us to be concerned that the waning we're seeing for infection will soon lead to waning that we would see for hospitalizations, severe disease and death, which is why it's so critical now to plan ahead to remain ahead of the virus.

AUBREY: And over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci said for now, the plan continues to be to offer a booster eight months after the second dose of either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine.

CORNISH: All right, one last thing. I don't know a parent who hasn't noticed the rise in cases in hospitalization among kids in recent weeks.

AUBREY: That's right. Yeah.

CORNISH: We're headed into the school year. What's the latest evidence on the best way to keep children protected?

AUBREY: You know, the message the CDC continues to repeat is that it is not one measure needed to keep kids safe. It's multiple strategies and multilayered approach, they call it, including, of course, masking proper ventilation, distancing, screening and testing and, of course, vaccination for everyone 12 and up. Dr. Walensky pointed to a study from Los Angeles County that found case rates and kids were 3 1/2 times lower during last winter's peak compared to adults.

WALENSKY: Even when communities were experiencing high levels of COVID transmission, in the LA County study, layered prevention measures in schools provided a shield of protection, helped to keep COVID out of school and reduce the spread when cases did occur.

AUBREY: Now, it may be tougher now with the delta variant, which we know is much more contagious. But Dr. Walensky says there's a lot of evidence that a multilayered prevention strategy does help.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey.

Allison, thanks for clearing it up for us.

AUBREY: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.