“Everybody who is 12 or up has to be vaccinated so that they can protect themselves, protect their school and protect their communities,” said White House Vaccinations Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair. “We have to do everything we can to create a safe environment and protect the twelve and under who aren’t eligible yet to get the vaccination.” (Photo by Lucio Patone on Unsplash)

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Coronavirus talk is at an all-time high as the delta variant sweeps the nation, a booster shot plan is announced and schools reopen to in-person learning.

Data released by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine show that more than 37 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, with 629,891 succumbing to the disease.

White House experts now say Americans have crucial decisions to make regarding vaccination if students, the immunocompromised and general population at large are to be afforded maximum protection.

Everybody who is 12 and up has to be vaccinated so that they can protect themselves, protect their school and protect their communities,” said White House Vaccinations Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair. “We have to do everything we can to create a safe environment and protect the twelve and under who aren’t eligible yet to get the vaccination.”

As the coronavirus mutates for easier transmission between hosts, even the fully vaccinated are no longer completely protected from the delta variant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended booster shots for all vaccinated adults over 18 years old on Aug. 18th. That announcement came mere weeks after the CDC first said booster shots were not needed on July 8th. 

  • “Back in early May one percent of the infections were caused by the delta variant,” said Choucair. “Today more than 98 percent of the infections are caused by the delta variant. The delta variant is so much more contagious than most other variants and that is why it has become the dominant variant here in the United States.

Choucair said booster shots are needed because the currently available vaccines lose efficacy over time and aren’t completely effective against the delta variant. Officials have yet to announce a booster shot program for Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients, but those fully inoculated with either the Moderna or the recently fully approved Pfizer vaccine are eligible for a booster shot after eight months.

The first booster shots will become available on September 20th.

“We know that when you get the third shot of the vaccine your level of antibodies go up ten fold or more. The higher the level of antibodies the more likely you’ll be able to fight the virus- including the delta variant,” said Choucair. 

Children between the ages of 12 and 17 were approved to get the vaccine in May, but Choucair said more time is needed to determine if and when a booster shot may be needed for minors.

In addition to getting vaccinated, Choucair said schools that are reopening to in-person learning must socially distance and wear masks- the same health precautions doctors around the world have been advising for more than a year. 

Bans on mask mandates in school have been issued in Florida, South Carolina and Utah as health officials from the CDC, the White House, and the National Institutes of Health plead with the public to mask and social distance.

“Absolutely everyone has to be masked-unvaccinated smaller children, teachers, staff, older vaccinated students- everyone must be masked,” said Dr. Uche Blackstock, an emergency physician and founder and chief executive of Advancing Health Equity.

“What we know from the data is that following a multilayered strategy is really important in reducing the spread of the virus in schools.”

Blackstock is working with the Biden Administration to improve access to coronavirus information and resources for communities of color. 

Though the fully vaccinated now need a booster shot, Blackstock said vaccination is still the best way to prevent hospitalization or death by COVID-19. 

“Hospitals are reaching capacity in areas where people are unvaccinated,” she said. “They are unable to not only care for COVID-19 patients but patients who are presenting to the hospital with other medical problems.” 

And plenty of Americans have “other medical problems.”

“About 3 percent of the population is immunocompromised. These are people who have had organ transplants, people on chemotherapy, people with HIV or an autoimmune disease,” said Blackstock. “They may require more than two vaccine doses.”

According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine more than 171 million Americans- or 52 percent of the population- have been fully vaccinated. Studies from the National Institute on Aging show that these immunizations have saved more than 140,000 lives. 

Unfortunately, this data also shows that 48 percent of the country has yet to fully complete a vaccine regimen. This leaves millions of Americans open to not only becoming coronavirus victims, but creators of new variants.

That is the ‘take home’ for everyone that is reading this piece,” said Blackstock. “If people do not get vaccinated, that is going to essentially create a breeding ground for more variants to evolve.”

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer