FRIDAY, July 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- In a sign that vaccine-hesitant Americans are starting to worry about the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, vaccinations are beginning to rise in some states where COVID-19 cases are soaring, White House officials said Thursday.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that several states with the highest proportions of new infections have seen residents get vaccinated at higher rates than the nation as a whole. Officials cited Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada as examples, the Associated Press reported.
"The fourth surge is real, and the numbers are quite frightening at the moment," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said on a New Orleans radio show, the AP reported. "There's no doubt that we are going in the wrong direction, and we're going there in a hurry."
On Thursday, Louisiana reported 2,843 new COVID-19 cases, one day after reporting 5,388 new infections -- the third-highest level since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations are also up steeply in the last month, from 242 on June 19 to 913 in the latest report, the AP said. Just 36% of Louisiana's population is fully vaccinated, state health department data shows.
Warner Thomas, president and CEO of the Ochsner Health system serving Louisiana and Mississippi, told the AP that the system had seen a 10% to 15% increase in people seeking vaccination over the past week or two. It has administered vaccines at churches, the New Orleans airport, basketball games and the mall.
"We see each person we get vaccinated now as a victory," said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, director of infection prevention and control for the 40-hospital system.
Missouri, which is second only to Arkansas and Louisiana in the number of new cases per capita over the past 14 days, lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have received at least one shot, the AP reported.
The case surge that began in the southwest part of that state has started to spread to the Kansas City area, including at Research Medical Center.
"I don't want to keep putting my life on the line just because people don't want to get vaccinated or listen to what health care professionals are recommending," Pascaline Muhindura, a registered nurse who has worked on the hospital's COVID-19 unit for more than a year, told the AP.
"A lot of them don't even believe in COVID-19 to begin with. It is incredibly frustrating. You are helping someone that doesn't even believe that the illness that they have is real," Muhindura said.
Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency physician with Tampa General Hospital in Florida, also has watched the rise in cases with frustration, the AP reported. Unlike earlier in the pandemic, when many patients were in their 70s, he has seen the median patient age drop to the mid-40s.
"This Delta [variant], at the moment, it is honing in on largely unvaccinated persons," Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine in Nashville, told the AP.
The variant, which first emerged in India, now accounts for an estimated 83% of coronavirus samples genetically identified in the United States. It is the predominant strain in every region of the country and continues "spreading with incredible efficiency," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
She called the Delta variant "one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of."
Biden says full vaccine approvals coming soon
As he urged Americans who are still hesitant to get vaccinated, President Joe Biden told an Ohio town hall on Wednesday night that he expected the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would soon give final approval to COVID-19 vaccines.
At the moment, all three vaccines being used in this country have only emergency use approval. But many medical professionals have pushed for the final approval, saying it could help ease people's concerns and boost vaccination rates.
"My expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus others in the field, is that sometime, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they'll get a final approval" for the vaccines, Biden said.
The president also said he expected children under the age of 12 would be approved to get it on an emergency basis "soon, I believe."
Biden's assurances came as the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant fuels a rise in coronavirus cases in the United States. Over the past week, an average of roughly 41,300 cases has been reported each day across the country, an increase of 171 percent from two weeks ago, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, the number of new deaths reported is up by 42 percent, to an average of 249 a day for the past week. Almost all illnesses and deaths are now occurring in unvaccinated people.
As of Thursday, nearly 49% of all Americans were fully vaccinated, with just over 56 percent having had their first shot, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Ohio, Biden found himself fielding questions from audience members concerned about low vaccination rates in their communities.
"This is [a] simple, basic proposition," he said. "If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized. You're not going to be in an ICU unit. And you are not going to die."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
SOURCES: Associated Press; The New York Times