DURHAM, N.C. -- Pharmacies around the United States are preparing to administer about a million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that officials say can help in the fight against the virus.
Beginning Friday, Americans who meet their state's eligibility guidelines can receive vaccines in 6,500 CVS, Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid locations. The doses are in addition to the allocation that has gone out to states -- which many local officials have said does not yet meet their demand.
The number of vaccinations has been on the rise each week. As of Thursday, nearly 46.4 million doses of the vaccines had been administered in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Right now, those eligible have been largely limited to the elderly, healthcare workers and people most vulnerable due to comorbidities.
But by April, that access could expand to the more general public, and most Americans could be inoculated by the middle or end of summer, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
In just the next 30 days, the National Association of Drug Stores hopes pharmacies will administer more than 100 million doses.
The upswing in vaccinations is happening amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus variants. And one key question is whether the vaccines will work on the variants.
So far, at least 997 cases of COVID-19 variants, first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, have been reported in the US, according to CDC data.
Dr. Barney Graham, chief of the lab and Deputy Director of the Vaccine Research Center at NIH, told President Joe Biden on Thursday that the antibodies vaccines make against the virus can still attack it, even if the virus has undergone some mutations.
"Antibodies have a lot of places to bind. It may eventually lose efficacy, but I think we are OK for now until additional mutations are accumulated," Graham said.
Vaccinations picking up the pace
Since the first shot on December 14, the average daily rate of coronavirus vaccine administrations in the US has been increasing each week.
An average of 359,000 doses given each day the first week of January has grown to about 1.6 million doses a day this week.
And the pace should ramp up further in March and April, allowing a broader segment of the population to become eligible, Fauci said.
"I would imagine by the time we get to April, that will be what I would call for, you know, for better wording, open season," Fauci said. "Namely, virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated."
Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies currently with authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the US, have both begun trials for children -- starting with older age groups. By September, vaccines could be authorized for young children, Fauci told ProPublica on Thursday.
Biden, for his part, said Thursday the US is on track to have vaccine supply for 300 million Americans "by the end of July."
"Within three weeks, 'round the clock work with so many people standing behind me and in front of me, we've now purchased enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all Americans, and now we're working to get those vaccines into the arms of millions of people," Biden said during a speech at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Biden also announced that the US has purchased additional Moderna and Pfizer vaccine.
And Johnson & Johnson would add to the country's supply if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes its one-dose vaccine. The company has said it could provide 20 million to 30 million doses by the end of April if the authorization comes.
States loosen their coronavirus restrictions
Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been dropping following surges around the holidays; and as they do, some states are dropping their restrictions.
Nevada will begin a new plan next week aimed at phasing-out statewide rules against gatherings by May 1. Starting Monday, most businesses and houses of worship will be able to have up to 100 people, or 35% of normal capacity. If coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease, capacity would go up to 50% on March 15.
"If we all want to see this transition to local control, let's work together to continue decreasing our community transmission," Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday.
Indoor gathering limitations in Wyoming will be increased to 25% of capacity or 500 people Monday, and limits on sporting events, artistic performances, restaurants and gyms will be eased, Gov. Mark Gordon said.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill on Wednesday shielding businesses and houses of worship from legal liability for COVID-19 transmission as long as they take measures to follow public health guidelines and announced he would not extend the statewide mask mandate.
"The mask mandate will expire on Friday," the governor said, adding, "Since we're not out of the woods yet, I will continue to wear a mask, and I will encourage all Montanans to do the same."
Though numbers have improved, health experts have warned that precautions are still important to keep the spread of more transmissible variants limited.
Nursing homes with more Black residents report more coronavirus deaths
Meanwhile, a new study reveals that the impact of the pandemic have been disproportionately higher for Black and Latino populations in the US.
Researchers for the study in the journal JAMA Network Open noted that nursing homes with more White residents had better resident health, higher star ratings, more nursing hours, and were located in counties with fewer coronavirus cases per capita.
And they found that the average number of coronavirus deaths was more than three times higher in nursing homes with the highest proportion of Black residents compared to those with the highest proportion of White residents.
To help stem future outbreaks, the researchers suggest that resources should be focused on supporting nursing homes with more non-White residents.
The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.