The U.S. is entering the second month of the biggest vaccination drive in history with a major expansion of the campaign, opening football stadiums, major league ballparks, fairgrounds and convention centers to inoculate a larger and more diverse pool of people.
After a frustratingly slow rollout involving primarily health care workers and nursing home residents, states are moving on to the next phase before the first one is complete, making COVID-19 shots available to such groups as senior citizens, teachers, bus drivers, police officers and firefighters.
Emily Alexander, a fourth-grade teacher in hard-hit Arizona, got vaccinated in a round-the-clock, drive-thru operation that opened Monday at the suburban Phoenix stadium where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play. She said she hopes it means she can be reunited in person with her students and colleagues before the end of the year.
“I miss the kids so much,” the 37-year-old Alexander said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing them and their families, being able to hug them. That has just been so tough.”
Similarly, in Britain, where a more contagious variant of the virus is raging out of control and deaths are soaring, seven large-scale vaccination sites opened Monday at such places as a big convention center in London, a racecourse in Surrey and a tennis and soccer complex in Manchester.
Across the U.S., where the outbreak has entered its most lethal phase yet and the death toll has climbed to about 375,000, politicians and health officials have complained over the past several days that too many shots were sitting unused on the shelves because of overly rigid adherence to the federal guidelines that put an estimated 24 million health care workers and nursing home residents at the front of the line.
About 9 million Americans have received their first shot, or 2.7% of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say as much as 85% of the population will have to be inoculated to achieve “herd immunity” and vanquish the outbreak.
Many states are responding by throwing open the line to other groups and ramping up the pace of vaccinations, in some cases offering them 24-7.