More and more Americans are getting coronavirus vaccines as a highly infectious variant of the virus surges and millions of children return to school, the White House's top COVID-19 advisers said Tuesday.
In mid-July, the nation was averaging 500,000 vaccinations a day, according to White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients. Now, it's up to 900,000 daily.
He credited a rise in employer-mandated vaccination.
"Bottom line, vaccination requirements work," Zients said. "They drive up vaccination rates. And we need more businesses and other employers — including health care systems, school districts, colleges and universities — to step up and do their part to help end the pandemic faster."
The vaccine rush comes as the country enters a new, dangerous phase in its battle against the pandemic, with an "exponential" rise in pediatric cases. Children under 12 are still not eligible for any coronavirus vaccine, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to fully approve any vaccine for people younger than 16. Children between 12 and 15 can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine under emergency-use authorization.
More than 200,000 children have tested positive in the past week, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday. The group urged parents to vaccinate their children over the age of 12, as did Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"CDC recommends that everyone eligible for vaccinations be vaccinated before school starts," she said. "If you or your vaccine-eligible child is not yet vaccinated, it is never too late to begin your vaccine series.
"Next, universal masking is critically important in school for students, teachers, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC also recommends schools employ additional key strategies in schools to keep kids safe, including improved ventilation, physical distancing, and establishing screening programs for students and teachers," Walensky said.
She added that the sudden influx of tens of millions of children into the school system is stressing the health care system in other ways, citing an unusual outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — a common childhood affliction that usually causes mild, coldlike symptoms.
"We know that there's an absolute number of children, because of this highly transmissible variant, an absolute number of children that are infected now with SARS-CoV-2," Walensky said. "And because of that absolute number, there's a larger number of children in the hospital. We're also simultaneously dealing with an RSV outbreak that is occurring in children now that's atypical for the season, but is also leading to some more occupancy of these pediatric hospital beds."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also stressed the importance of vaccines for pregnant people.
"There are severe adverse outcomes for mother and baby during COVID-19 infection, therefore, it is extremely important for pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant to get vaccinated," he said.
Fauci pointed to new data that show no major adverse effects of the vaccine for that group.
"The bottom line, get vaccinated," he said.