However, other areas around the world are still lagging far behind. Many countries, particularly in Africa, have administered a paltry number of vaccines compared to their overall populations.
“We have a long way to go as a globe,” Dr. Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “The United States — we don’t even realize how lucky we are here because we’ve had access to the vaccine early on. We basically have people turning the vaccine away. We think the whole world behaves that way, but that’s not the case.”
All American adults are now eligible for the vaccine and have three different options to choose from: Pfizer (PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the rest of the world. In some places, only one vaccine is available and in limited amounts.
“There are whole countries where only 1% of the population has had access to the vaccine,” Judd said. “That means the coronavirus will continue to spread in those countries and will be problematic in those countries. It means travel restrictions could happen. It means that it may impact Americans in terms of how they interact through work with people from those countries. It definitely will continue to impact us, so we have to be aware that it’s a good 18 months away before there’s enough vaccine to really stop the spread of the virus worldwide.”
'It’s really a global fight'
At least 13 states have hit their goals of at least 70% of their residents being partially vaccinated, which has led governors to lift restrictions and mask mandates.
But there is still a persistent group of people across the country who are refusing to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons such as political beliefs, safety concerns, or genuine anti-vax sentiment.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 7% of those who are unvaccinated said they will only get the shot if they are required, while 13% are still “definitely not” getting a vaccine.
The problem, though, is that mutant strains (variants) of the virus are able to form as the virus circulates for longer. So even with at least 70% vaccinated, there is still a risk.
“That 30% that winds up in another state, say that the state makes it to 70% and there are 30% unvaccinated,” Judd said. “It poses a risk to that 30%. We really want to get to the 70% target in all states. That’s what will make this virus go away and not stay with us. If we don’t, we’re going to wind up battling outbreaks basically.”
This is essentially what happened with the Delta variant, the COVID-19 strain that’s devastated India, where just 3.4% of the population is fully vaccinated despite a 7-day moving average of new cases at 82,058. The variant is now slowly making its way into other parts of the world. It’s what led U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay the end of the U.K.’s lockdown to July 19.
“We’ve been seeing these outbreaks in India and in Brazil and in other countries,” Judd said. “As a world, are we going to be able to put this pandemic behind us? And what’s needed in order to do that?”
And though the vaccines appear to be effective against the strain, they are not as strong.
“The initial variants, we were looking at 90% effective and maybe it’s more like 70% with the Delta variant, but that’s great,” Judd said. “Honestly, that’s a public health win. 70% is not something to throw away and say ‘that’s not good enough.’ That’s so much better than 10, 15, 20%. Again, if we can get people vaccinated, we don’t have to worry about the Delta variant.”
“It’s not just the United States that’s in this fight,” she added. “It’s really a global fight, a global struggle, a global effort.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at email@example.com.