The numbers of Covid-19 cases and infections have decreased, Offit said. But with hundreds of people dying and at least 10,000 people infected most days, the rates are still too high to prevent the summer lull from turning into a winter surge, he said.
And only 65% of adults have received at least one dose.
“You would have thought at the beginning of this, knowing that vaccines are our only way our of the pandemic, the hardest part would have been figuring out how to construct these vaccines,” said Offit, a key member of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee. “The hardest part is convincing people to get it, which is remarkable.”
Variants should encourage people to get vaccinated, experts say
Spreading variants shouldn’t be a concern to those who are vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR, but it should be an incentive to get vaccinated.
When asked how concerned he was about the variant, Fauci said: “I’m not concerned about the people who are vaccinated. Because the good news about all this, among the seriousness of the situation with regards to the variant, is that the vaccines work really quite well.”
People who are vaccinated are protected, “which is another very good reason to encourage people strongly to get vaccinated because if you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting infected with a virus that now spreads more rapidly and gives more serious disease,” said the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Experts and officials are pressing for people who are still hesitant to get the vaccines and help slow the spread.
“What do we do if a critical percentage of this population chooses not to get vaccinated and chooses to allow this virus to continue to spread, continue to hurt themselves and others and continue to create variants which become all the more contagious and all the more difficult to contain,” Offit said.
Vaccine protection could last a year — or much longer
Fortunately, the protection offered by vaccines appears to be very strong, Offit said.
“Although immunity might fade for protection against mild disease or asymptomatic infection or low moderate disease, I think protection against critical disease will probably be relatively long-lasting, meaning for a few years,” he said. “The so-called cellular immune response induced by these vaccines appears to be excellent.”
But experts can only rely on six months of data, since the vaccines are so new. And scientists still can’t say for sure how long the protection will last.
Their durability will determine whether the population will need boosters, Fauci said.
“I want to emphasize, by durability, I don’t mean that the vaccines now are not effective. We’re talking about the length of the protection, which we know is very high right now,” said Fauci, who is also Biden’s chief medical adviser.
Experts will have to watch Covid-19 infections to determine how long the public can do without more immunizations, Fauci said.
“That could be a year, that could be 18 months, that could be much longer. We’re going to have to follow it, and we will act according to the information that we get,” he said.
CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Naomi Thomas and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.