The US is heading “in the wrong direction” on the pandemic as infections surge among the unvaccinated, the top US health expert has warned.
Dr Anthony Fauci said the Delta variant is driving the spike in areas with low vaccination rates.
Covid-19 in the US is becoming “a pandemic among the unvaccinated”, Fauci, the chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, told broadcaster CNN on Sunday.
More than 160 million people – or nearly 50% of the population – have been fully vaccinated in the US, which was a world leader in jab uptake until April, when vaccination rates started to drop.
In southern states, fewer than half of residents have received their first dose and infections are on the rise again after numbers fell in May and June.
The resurgence has added to the more than 34 million cases and 610,000 deaths recorded so far.
The sharpest increases in Covid cases are in states with lower vaccination rates, such as Florida, Texas and Missouri.
Earlier this week, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said 99.5% of Covid deaths are occurring among unvaccinated people.
In his interview with CNN, Fauci said local leaders in areas with low vaccination rates need to do more to encourage people to get jabbed.
He said he was “very heartened to hear” the governors of Arkansas and Florida promoting vaccinations in their states. Both leaders have been critical of his advice in the past.
Fauci said he was involved in discussions to change mask guidance issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As it stands, the CDC says people who are fully vaccinated can “resume activities that you did before the pandemic without wearing a mask”.
Fauci said local governments could issue their own rules under the current CDC guidance, and he noted that some local governments had reinstated indoor and public mask requirements to curb rising infections.
In Los Angeles county, California, masks are now required indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people once more.
Vaccine scepticism is still strong in many states, particularly among the religious.
Last week, a California man who mocked Covid-19 vaccines on social media died after a month-long battle with the virus.
Stephen Harmon, a member of the Hillsong Megachurch, was a vocal opponent of vaccines.
He was treated for Covid-19 in a hospital outside Los Angeles, where he died after documenting his fight to stay alive, posting pictures of himself in his hospital bed.
Despite his struggle with the virus, Harmon still said he would reject all vaccines, saying his religious faith would protect him.
Shortly before his death, he joked about the pandemic and vaccines, saying he trusted the Bible over Fauci.
Megachurch founder Brian Houston said after Harmon’s death that the church encourages its members “to follow the guidance of their doctors”.