Washington — Approaching the Fourth of July holiday, the U.S. appears unlikely to attain President Biden's self-imposed goal of administering at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 70% of American adults. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Sunday that the U.S. needs to develop a new vaccine strategy as vaccination rates lag.
"We need to think about a different vaccine delivery strategy to get the people who are still reluctant or who still face challenges getting into those access sites," he said Sunday on "Face the Nation."
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 65.3% of adults have had at least one dose of their COVID-19 shot.
"As a practical matter, from a public health standpoint, it's not going to have an impact whether we hit 68% or 70%," Gottlieb said. "The reality is we are vaccinating a large portion of the American population."
He said the country is still in the first phase of making vaccine doses accessible, notably by opening mass vaccination sites to make it easy for those who wanted to get the vaccine to do so.
But Gottlieb said the Biden administration needs to shift to a "2.0" vaccination campaign, with a focus on pushing the vaccine into community sites where people could get it through a "trusted intermediary" like a doctor's office, school or workplace. The Biden administration hasa host of initiatives in recent weeks to improve community-based distribution of the vaccines.
The former FDA commissioner also predicted that the rate of vaccinations is likely going to decline over the summer before picking back up in the fall.
"People aren't going to be seeking out a vaccine in July and August. But as people contemplate going back to school and back to work in the fall, they will be seeking out vaccines," he said. "And I think that's what we need to think about that 2.0 campaign and a different strategy for delivering vaccine to those who remain unvaccinated."
A second jolt of energy into America's vaccination campaign could be just what doctor ordered to combat the Delta variant of the virus, which was first found in India but is now spreading in the U.S. According to the CDC, the strain makes up at least 10% of all U.S. cases, prompting the agency to label it as a "variant of concern."
The Delta variant is the most contagious strain to date and is spreading among those who are unvaccinated, including children who are not yet eligible to get their shots. Gottlieb said the variant is yet another reason why people should get vaccinated even if they remain reluctant, citing projections from epidemiologists that predict an increase in infections in areas with low vaccination rates.
"When you do look at those estimates, you see it varies widely between states. So Connecticut, for example, where I am, shows no upsurge of infection, but Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri show very substantial upsurges of infections," he said. "That's based entirely on how much population-wide immunity you have based on vaccination."