I’ve been watching that 70% dot move tantalizingly closer. As interesting and important as this graph is in its own right, perhaps more interesting has been how it has been changing over time. Two weeks ago, the Times was projecting we’d hit 70% on June 27th. One week ago, they projected June 20th. And today, it’s moved up to June 16th. On its face, this acceleration makes sense, as we are still in a period where the available supply of vaccine is growing, and the rate of vaccinations going into arms is increasing each week. Good news!
Sort of. Because considering only the expanding supply doesn’t paint the full picture. Looking only at the increasing supply, or even considering the supply to be constant, as the graph does daily in its projection, is half the story. Most junior high kids know enough to say that you have to consider demand along with supply. And demand appears to be waning.
A quick google news search on “vaccine demand waning” returns 160,000 hits. The stories are from all over the country and usually the same: public health officials in many places are relaxing the guidelines on who can get the shots, partly because they are getting more vaccine from the feds, and partly because people are not showing up to get them. Appointments are going unfilled. Yes, there are places where that’s not true, such as in the immediate Chicago area where the feds and the county have botched the distribution completely. God, what a clown show.
It’s well known that if you’re willing and able to drive a little bit, you can get a shot. I got my first Pfizer dose last week, less than two hours from downtown. The place I went was struggling to find people to take them in that area. Some counties further downstate have removed all phased restrictions; anyone over 16 can get one starting today. They are practically begging people to get the jab. (I do love that that primarily British usage is getting traction here. Jab is a great word.)
When the vaccines were first announced, I felt such a sense of optimism and pride. Look what humans did, and look how quickly! I honestly think the development of these vaccines ranks among humanity’s greatest achievements. Numbers like 95% effectiveness are basically unheard of, and the spectactular clinical results have been borne out again and again in the real world. Calling it a miracle isn’t a stretch. And a new CDC study out today reinforces the finding that not only do the vaccines prevent severe illness and death, they also prevent infection—which means they will reduce spread, if enough people get them. The end could finally be in sight.
Yet here we sit, with only about a sixth of the country fully vaccinated, and in many places, declining or little interest in finishing the job. I have my theories on the reasons for it, but the reasons don’t really matter. The outcome will be the same. That 70% dot on the NYT graphic will soon stop moving closer, and start moving further out. In fact, I doubt we’ll ever get anywhere near having 70% of the US population vaccinated. There’s an awful lot of stupid out there, and it’s not the kind you can educate or reason with.
Which is not to say that we won’t get to herd immunity one way or the other, though. Cases are rising again, and state and local leaders are YOLOing their way back to full reopening and doing away with mask mandates, even in the face of the growing prevalence of more contagious variants.
It’s going to be a hot, wild summer, and most Americans will definitely have antibodies coursing through their veins by the end of the year—either the easy way, or the hard way.