ATLANTA - As the US continues to try to ramp up vaccinations, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are dropping steadily.
Yet Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says over 83,000 Americans are hospitalized right now with COVID-19.
"I am asking everyone to please keep your guard up," Dr. Walenksy says. "The continued proliferation of variants remains a great concern and is a threat that could reverse the recent positive trends we're seeing. As of February 7, 699 variant cases have been confirmed across 34 states, with 691 cases being the b.1.1.7 variant."
The b. 1.1.7. variant, which originated last fall in the United Kingdom, is one of 3 highly-transmissible viral strains scientists worldwide are tracking.
The CDC projects the UK variant could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of March.
That ratchets up the pressure to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, even though there is still very limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.
One idea being floated would be to give the first dose of the two-shot vaccine to as many people as possible, delaying the second dose until more vaccine is available.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says the idea would be to give more Americans some level of protection against the virus as the variants take root in this country.
It is an idea, Fauci says, that may not work.
The original research done on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed the first dose triggers a partial immune response that provides some protection.
"However, the boost, either 21 or 28 days later, was ten-fold higher," Fauci says.
Fauci says getting both shots provides about 94% to 95% protection against both the "wild," or currently circulating, strains of the coronavirus while also protecting against the newer, more contagious variants.
Partially vaccinating Americans could also put pressure on the virus allowing it to mutate even more, he says. "So for that reason, we have continued to go by the fact that we feel the optimum approach would be to continue with getting as many people vaccinated on their first dose as possible, also making sure that people, on time, get their second dose."
Those who have had their first dose of the vaccine and are having a hard time scheduling their second dose have some flexibility, the CDC says.
While the agency recommends sticking as closely as possible to the recommended 3- or 4-week interval between the two doses, it is possible to delay the second dose by two weeks, the agency says.
Scheduling an appointment in Georgia could soon get a little easier.
Next week, the Georgia Department of Public Health plans to launch a online scheduling tool and phone line that will allow people to schedule both doses of the vaccine at the same time.
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