Across the United States, cases have started rising again. In a few cities, even hospitalizations are ticking up. The twists and turns of a pandemic can be hard to predict, but this most recent increase was almost inevitable: A more transmissible and more deadly variant called B.1.1.7 has established itself at the precise moment when many regions are opening up rapidly by lifting mask mandates, indoor-gathering restrictions, and occupancy limits on gyms and restaurants.
We appear to be entering our fourth surge.
The good news is that this one is different. We now have an unparalleled supply of astonishingly efficacious vaccines being administered at an incredible clip. If we act quickly, this surge could be merely a blip for the United States. But if we move too slowly, more people will become infected by this terrible new variant, which is acutely dangerous to those who are not yet vaccinated.
The United States has an advantage that countries such as Canada, France, Germany, and Italy, who are also experiencing surges from this variant, don’t. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work very well against this variant, and the U.S. has been using them to vaccinate more than 3 million people a day. That’s more than 4 percent of our vaccine-eligible population every three days. An astonishing 73 percent of people over 65, and 36 percent of all eligible adults in the country, have already received at least one dose. More than 50 million people are now considered fully vaccinated, having received either their booster dose or the “one and done” Johnson & Johnson shot. Many states have already opened up vaccination to anyone over 16, and everyone eligible is expected to have a chance to get at least a first dose no later than May.