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Half Of U.S. Adults Have Gotten A Vaccine, But COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Remains


Half of all adults in the U.S. have now received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. And as of today, everyone 16 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in every state. But the challenge is going to be getting the second half of the population vaccinated. Earlier today, we spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration's chief medical adviser, and we asked him about his own expectations for getting everyone vaccinated.


ANTHONY FAUCI: By the end of May, there will be enough vaccines to vaccinate anyone who would want to be vaccinated. And from a logistics standpoint, getting it into people's arms, we hope we do it sooner but no later than July.

MARTIN: NPR's Allison Aubrey has been looking into all those questions, and she joins us now. Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: I mean, this is great news. Eligibility has opened up everywhere, right?

AUBREY: That's right, yes. Teenagers age 16 and 17 have one option - that's the Pfizer vaccine. Adults 18 and up can get either Pfizer or Moderna. For now, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is off the table, as the rare blood clots are being evaluated. Now, states weren't expecting much of this vaccine right now anyway, given an ongoing production issue. But this pause could be lifted later this week. In fact, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to meet this Friday. The group advises the CDC. And I spoke to Patricia Stinchfield. She's a nonvoting member of the committee.

PATRICIA STINCHFIELD: I think there's no doubt that the pause does make people a little bit nervous. But I feel like it's the right thing to do. And I think - in the long run, I think pauses like this builds confidence to say, yeah, you know, we had a pause. We looked at it. We evaluated it. We feel confident going forward.

AUBREY: You know, there are a lot of directions this could go, Rachel. One possibility is that there could be some restrictions placed on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, say, by age. Remember; the blood clots were seen in women under the age of 50.

MARTIN: Right. So is there any evidence, Allison, though, that this pause in the J&J vaccine has led to hesitancy among women or other folks who may have been on the fence about getting vaccinated in the first place?

AUBREY: You know, among the health care providers I've spoken to, Rachel, this pause has led to some concerns among people who may already be hesitant, including some pregnant people or those considering having a child. I talked to Dr. Laura Riley. She's one of the authors of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' guidance policy on vaccination during pregnancy. She says she understands the concerns.

LAURA RILEY: The J&J stock I'm sure has, you know, thrown some people back on their heels. And so I think the purpose of the pause is not only - you know, like, obviously, you want to see, are there more cases? But you also want to pause so that physicians and patients know what to do if they have the symptoms.

AUBREY: You know, with so much attention on this, once the pause is lifted, people could be warned about symptoms that could be warning signs - physicians would know how to respond if the pause were lifted and people were getting this vaccine again. She says, for now, she's advising patients to go ahead and get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because they're available. And she's reminding people that the risks of not getting vaccinated far exceed the risks tied to the shots.

MARTIN: Right. But even so, I mean, we have to acknowledge, around the country there are all these reports of vaccine appointments going unfilled, even in places - I mean, which is everywhere now...


MARTIN: ...Where eligibility is open.

AUBREY: That's right. I mean, from pharmacies to clinics, there are lots of sites that report they've not seen appointments fill up as quickly as the supply has come in. And that's frustrating for everyone involved in this. Claire Hannan of the Association of Immunization Managers told me this is not limited to just one area of the country.

CLAIRE HANNAN: You know, it is certain areas of the country, certain counties. They tend to be white, conservative, evangelical counties, rural areas. You know, this is where we're seeing that demand is not as high as the supply.

AUBREY: So more outreach may be needed to help answer questions, try to convince people.

MARTIN: I mean, we heard her reference hesitancy among white conservatives, which is really interesting because, in the beginning of the whole debate over the vaccines, there was a whole lot of attention put on Black communities and concern that they were going to be really hesitant about getting the vaccine. Not so much anymore, huh?

AUBREY: Yeah, well, you know, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll back in December, at the time of the rollout, found 52% of Black Americans said they would wait and see before signing up. A more recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 25% of Black respondents said they did not plan to get a shot, compared to 28% of white respondents - so, you know, not a big difference there.

MARTIN: Right.

AUBREY: Claire Hannan says there's been a lot of successful outreach efforts.

HANNAN: Black doctors, Black ministers, Black nurses - there are so many Black leaders involved, getting vaccinated, being vocal about it. I think it's helping tremendously.

MARTIN: Which is great news, but I imagine that the Johnson & Johnson pause on that vaccine - I mean, there could be a risk that that's slowing down that progress?

AUBREY: You know, in May - I've spoken to people doing outreach and vaccine education, including a doctor in Los Angeles, Dr. Calvin Johnson (ph). He told me that among the people who are most skeptical - you know, he does feel he's making progress. But among those who are the most hesitant, this pause has led to more doubt.

CALVIN JOHNSON: I think that my job is going to be more difficult. There's fear, and there's anger. The thought is that they've been tricked. The vaccine came out too fast. It wasn't tested enough. See? I told you so.

AUBREY: So clearly, more work to do, more meeting people where they are, answering their questions. He says having watched so many hospitalized people die from COVID, the message he tries to communicate is that it's critical to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

MARTIN: Can you just give us a sense of the numbers at this moment, Allison, when it comes to the pandemic in general?

AUBREY: Sure. I mean, there are more than 65 - or about 65,000 cases a day on average. That's been the average over the past week. Deaths have been declining down to about 700 or so a day. In terms of cases, it's mixed around the country. In New York, New Jersey, you're seeing declines, so that's good news. But cases have been rising in hot spots, including parts of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida. Bottom line - virus is still circulating nationwide. Here's Dr. David Rubin of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who has been analyzing all the trends.

DAVID RUBIN: Americans have quickly retreated from any sort of social distancing. So this kind of - this mismatch right now, where I think a lot of young and middle-aged adults are in particular - and those who are vaccine hesitant - are being swept up a bit into this long tail and a bit of a spring resurgence.

AUBREY: You know, now that eligibility has opened up, the hope is that many of these unvaccinated young adults will opt to get the shot, and that can help to put this pandemic behind us.

MARTIN: And a big question right now is, really, whether we will ever get to a level that would be considered herd immunity, right?

AUBREY: That's right. I mean, you hear different numbers for those - 80% to 85% percent of Americans need to have some protection. So you do the math, and you look at what's happening now. There are clearly headwinds. The first half of the country, the first 50% of the country, has received at least one shot. Now the drive is to get the second half to sign up and do it.

MARTIN: All right. Worth repeating again - as of today, anyone in the United States age 16 and older is eligible to be vaccinated. Thanks so much. NPR's Allison Aubrey.

AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "WHEN THE BODY") 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.