The U.S. is awash in vaccine supply. Its new concern: Will demand keep up?

On the road to mass-vaccination, the U.S. is so far ahead that it’s detecting new obstacles that remain, for much of the world, an afterthought on a distant horizon.

The proportion of the population who’ve received at least one dose is almost two times higher than in Canada and it’s 10 times higher for the fully vaccinated.

The vaccine supply in most states has ballooned to more than one dose per adult — that’s allowed half of adults and nearly 40 per cent of the total U.S. population to have received a shot. 

Nowadays when you text friends to tell them a local clinic has doses available, it’s increasingly common to hear the reply: No thanks, I’ve already got mine.

“It’s pretty damn good,” Paul Goepfert, a University of Alabama researcher who studies vaccines, said of the rollout so far.

So he’s optimistic, right? Not quite. 

In fact, Goepfert is worried that the U.S. might never cross that coveted threshold of herd immunity.

“I’m skeptical,” he said of whether the country will reach herd immunity. “At least not anytime soon.” 

Vaccine hesitancy ranks atop his causes for concern. The increasing abundance of U.S. supply is now shifting attention to that other half of economics’ most fundamental model: demand.

Whether enough Americans take the vaccine matters not only here but elsewhere, as the world pursues that ill-defined immunity threshold, which most estimates peg at about three-quarters of the population.

Blue states, red states

The rate of vaccinations is still increasing across the U.S. but there’s an emerging gap in how quickly different states are unloading supplies. And the gap is growing.

The states seeing the biggest daily increases in vaccinations are churning through their supply — led by New Hampshire, which has now delivered at least one dose to 71 per cent of adults.

Other states have used just two-thirds of their supply and the daily increases are smaller: Mississippi and Alabama, for instance, have delivered at least one dose to 38 per cent of adults.

There’s an eye-catching political trend developing.

Of the states with the most doses administered per adult, 14 of the top 15 voted for Joe Biden. As for states administering the fewest doses, 14 of 15 voted for Donald Trump.

Wilbert Marshall, 71, looks away while receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from Melissa Banks, right, a nurse at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Service Center in Clarksdale, Miss., April 7. Nearly half of American adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are some signs that rates are lower in Republican red states such as Mississippi than in Democrat-supporting blue states. (Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

Goepfert’s own experiences attest to the trendline in his state of Alabama.

Just weeks ago, he was being bombarded with requests from people who hoped that, through his work, he might help them score still-rare vaccines. 

“I don’t get those calls anymore,” he said.

Meanwhile, he works at an HIV clinic and struggles to convince some patients to take the vaccine, including people with serious pre-existing conditions.

He describes a spectrum of vaccine hesitancy. Some skeptics can be convinced to get vaccinated, he says; others flat-out refuse. Some say no out of fear; others have no fear of COVID-19.

One patient casually brushed off getting vaccinated, Goepfert said, telling him: “I don’t wear a mask. I haven’t gotten sick. Why should I get a vaccine?” 

Blue states are ahead in vaccinations. Atop the list is New Hampshire, seen here with a mass vaccination event last month. A whopping 71 per cent of adults in the state, and 58 per cent of the total population, have received at least one dose. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Pharmacy slots unfilled

Vaccination appointments are going unfilled in certain places.

There were vacant vaccination slots in dozens of CVS pharmacy locations on Thursday in Tennessee,…

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