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Nearly every new Covid-19 death is now entirely preventable, CDC director says

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By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

The dangerous Delta variant poses a risk to the United States as the country works to ease out of the Covid-19 pandemic, but experts say the nation has the tools needed to overcome the threat — if the public takes advantage of them.

“Covid-19 vaccines are available for everyone ages 12 and up,” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Tuesday. “They are nearly 100% effective against severe disease and death — meaning nearly every death due to Covid-19 is particularly tragic, because nearly every death, especially among adults, due to Covid-19 is at this point entirely preventable.”

Those still dying from Covid-19 in the US are “overwhelmingly” unvaccinated, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

As of Tuesday night, 65.5% of the adult population in the US has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. While that seems close to the goal set by President Joe Biden to have 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4, experts are concerned about declining vaccination rates and the difficulty in motivating those still hesitant to get inoculated.

“This virus is an opportunist,” Walensky said. “As long as there are those who are not vaccinated, Covid-19 will remain a threat.”

The Delta variant, which is believed to be more transmissible and more dangerous, is the “greatest threat” to the United States’ progress against the virus, Fauci said Tuesday during the White House briefing.

Fauci said he thinks a return to the high virus surges of 2020 is unlikely, but communities continuing to hold out against vaccination could experience localized surges as the summer continues.

“Good news, our vaccines are effective against the Delta variant … we have the tools,” he said.

Using TikTok to reach young adults

The two groups that have made it difficult to close the vaccination gap are young people and states with low rates, Fauci said.

“It’s a combination of some states and regions that are below where we need them to be,” Fauci told CNN. “Within that context, it’s younger people — particularly 18 to 26 — where you really want to try and get them to get vaccinated.”

Fewer than half of the adults in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to data from the CDC.

And even in high vaccination states, like Vermont, young adults are a “tough nut to crack,” Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told CNN.

As of Monday, 81.3% of eligible Vermonters had started the vaccination process. Levine said he knows that if he can get that younger demographic to get vaccinated, the state numbers would look even better “because there are thousands of thousands of them and we do think they want to be vaccinated.”

Levine is confident that the college-going part of this age group will get vaccinated, if they haven’t already, because most colleges and universities in the state have required, or will require, the vaccine. He still has some concerns about the 18- to 29-year-olds who are in the work force and not in college.

“Most of them are not a truly vaccine-resistant group,” Levine said. “They don’t have that strong polarized view. They’re mostly in the category where it’s just not at the top of their list right now.”

Levine said one strategy that might work is to make vaccinations and information so accessible that young people stumble onto it — and Fauci has taken on the challenge with a TikTok.

“I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams I would be doing TikTok with people today,” Fauci told CNN, noting misinformation about the vaccine has been spreading on social media.

“We’ve got to go out there and push the envelope out in the media — including the media that’s giving misinformation,” Fauci said.

A new target date for vaccinations

Officials and experts have been putting extra effort into increasing vaccination rates as the country is on a path to fall short of Biden’s goal to have 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in our vaccination efforts to date, and the ultimate goal has been to get America back to normal,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week.

Fauci said the new date officials have set their focus on is mid-July.

“If you look at the rate now, it’s probably going to be within the first couple of weeks of July,” Fauci said. “Maybe the second or third week of July.”

Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said he does not think it’s a “big deal” for the nation to fall slightly short of the July 4 target.

“You set a goal. If you reach it, great. If you don’t, you keep going to try and reach it and go beyond it,” he said.

CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Virginia Langmaid, Kaitlan Collins and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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