The US could see about four times the current rate of Covid-19 cases in the next four to six weeks as the Delta variant spreads and the population hits a wall on vaccinations, the former CDC director told CNN.
“We’re heading into a rough time. It’s likely, if our trajectory is similar to that in the United Kingdom, that we could see as many as 200,000 cases a day,” Dr. Tom Frieden said, adding the US likely won’t see the “horrific death tolls” of earlier in the pandemic thanks to the number of vulnerable people who are vaccinated.
But, he said, “You will see a steady increase in deaths, and these are preventable deaths.”
The last time there were more than 200,000 new US cases in one day was in January, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The Delta variant is believed to be more transmissible than other strains — so much so, Frieden said, that it is essentially finding people who are unvaccinated.
And much of the country remains unvaccinated, despite incentive programs and urging from health experts. Only 49.1% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Daily vaccination rates are slowing, with only about two thirds of the eligible population having received at least one dose, the CDC said.
Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, Dr. Paul Offit, said vaccination rates have hit a wall and that could have serious consequences.
“Now we are at a point where there is a solid 25 or 30 percent of the population that’s saying they don’t want to get vaccinated, that they are okay with allowing this virus to continue to spread, continue to do harm and, worst of all, continue to possibly create variants that are going to be resistant to vaccine-induced immunity,” he said.
And vaccinated people will likely pay a price for those choices, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said. Even though vaccines offer strong protection against the virus, being surrounded by unvaccinated people could lead to infection spillover, and vaccinated people could get sick or pass on the infection to their loved ones, she said.
“By people saying ‘I’m not going to get vaccinated,’ they’re actually choosing to endanger everybody else, and they are prolonging the pandemic,” Wen said.
Despite the risk posed by a large swath of unvaccinated people, Frieden said vaccines are still helping to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
“For every (case) that ends in death in the coming weeks, there would have been hundreds that end in death if there hadn’t been vaccinations,” Frieden said.