Even as the White House highlighted what it considers alarmism in reporting of the surge in cases of the Delta coronavirus variant across the US, reports in the same national media suggested vaccinations are increasing in hotspot areas.
On Friday, an unnamed senior Biden administration official told CNN the press was reporting misleadingly on federal data indicating the Delta variant spreads among vaccinated as well as unvaccinated people.
The official said a focus on “breakthrough infections” might lead to people being more hesitant to get vaccinated, and said the White House had asked news organisations to tone down coverage.
“The media’s coverage doesn’t match the moment,” the official was quoted as saying. “It has been hyperbolic and frankly irresponsible in a way that hardens vaccine hesitancy. The biggest problem we have is unvaccinated people getting and spreading the virus.”
One NBC News story on new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was first headlined “Breakthrough Covid cases: at least 125,000 fully vaccinated Americans have tested positive”.
That figure, however, represents a fraction of a percentage point of vaccinations in the US this year. NBC changed the headline to “Breakthrough Covid cases: data shows how many vaccinated Americans have tested positive”.
Separately, reports indicated that concern over the Delta variant, which the CDC says appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and to spread as readily as chickenpox, is helping overcome vaccine hesitancy.
More than 4.7 million people have been vaccinated in the US in the past two weeks and more than 856,000 doses were administered on Friday, the highest daily figure since 3 July, according to the Washington Post.
Louisiana, one of several southern states with low vaccination rates, has reportedly seen a 114% increase in shots, Arkansas a 96% increase, Alabama 65% and Missouri 49%. Last week, Texas reported its highest single-day vaccination rate in a month.
Senior Republicans have began urging residents to accept vaccines. Writing in the Washington Post this week, Alabama governor Kay Ivey said those “pushing fake news and conspiracy theories about this vaccine are reckless and causing great harm”. Ivey also invoked a famous fictional Alabamian’s maxim on life being like a box of chocolates, as you never know what you’re going to get.
“That was true in 1994 when Forrest [Gump] said it, and it’s true today,” she said of Robert Zemeckis’s Oscar-winning film, starring Tom Hanks. “We have a weapon today to battle Covid-19 that we didn’t have a year ago. It’s up to you to use the good common sense God gave you to do what is best for you and your loved ones.”
In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson reimposed a state of emergency on Thursday and reported that all pediatric intensive care beds were full. He has sought to dispel fears that the vaccines are a “bioweapon”.
“We have had to bring in more vaccine,” Robert Ator, head of the Arkansas vaccine drive, told the Post. “For the first time in two and a half months, we are making a new large-scale order. People are scared.”
In Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell was preparing public service messages to broadcast on more than 100 radio stations.
“These shots need to get in everybody’s arms as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for – that we went through last year,” McConnell told reporters this week. “This is not complicated.”
Figures show less than half of adult Americans are fully vaccinated. Many researchers have said that the goal of herd immunity has become unreachable. But the release this week of a CDC document recommending a reversal on guidance concerning masks – which it said on 13 May were no longer necessary indoors or outdoors – may have helped to underscore the threat from the Delta variant.
“Given higher transmissibility and current vaccine coverage, universal masking is essential to reduce transmission of the Delta variant,” the CDC document said.
It added that fully vaccinated people “might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from Covid-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated.”
Not all Republicans are looking to take politics out of the push for vaccinations and to end the resurgent pandemic.
Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, used the change in CDC guidance about masks to attack the Biden administration.
“They broke their word,” he said. “They broke their own rules. And now they’ve broken the trust of the American people.”