WASHINGTON—The United States is closer to getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and health officials are focused on the next challenge: getting more Americans vaccinated, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Sunday.
"I would say we are turning the corner," Zients said in an interview with CNN's "State of the Union."
Zients said about 58% of American adults have received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot. The task now is to continue building confidence in vaccines and get enough Americans vaccinated to mitigate the spread of the virus and its variants, he said.
U.S. health officials are aiming to meet President Joe Biden's goal of 70% of American adults having at least one shot by the July 4 U.S. Independence Day.
Zients said reaching that goal could help the country reach a sustainable low level of infections.
About 46% of all Americans have received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said another surge in coronavirus infections would be unlikely if the Biden goal is met or exceeded.
"The larger proportion of the population that's vaccinated, the less likelihood that in a season like the coming fall or winter you're going to see a significant surge," Fauci said on NBC' "Meet the Press."
"That's the reason why vaccinations are so important. That's the wild card that we have now that we didn't have last fall or the last winter."
Zients defended the latest masking guidelines from the CDC, which recommends that fully vaccinated people should still wear masks at crowded outdoor events or when they go indoors in public settings with other people who may not be vaccinated.
Some health experts have questioned whether the CDC guidelines are too strict, and that removing the indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people could encourage confidence in the vaccines. That move would not, however, protect unvaccinated people from contracting the virus from a carrier who has been vaccinated.
The CDC guidelines will over time allow more people to take off their masks, Zients said, while acknowledging Americans' mask fatigue.
"We're getting there," Zients said. "And the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter. Let's keep up our guard."
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)