A coronavirus forecast released Thursday by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (IHME) projects 185 million Americans will be vaccinated against coronavirus by September, but warns vaccine hesitancy could contribute to a potential winter surge.
The IHME model projects daily deaths from Covid-19 will decline, resulting in 948,859 Americans dead from coronavirus by September. That scenario accounts for continued spread of the B.1.1.7 virus variant, the one first detected in the UK, in the US and a scale up of vaccination efforts over the next 90 days.
The team recently changed its modeling methodology to account for underreporting of Covid-19 deaths, resulting in higher death estimates than previous forecasts.
The IHME team says it expects over 70% of Americans will receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of May, and 65% will be fully vaccinated by mid-June. President Joe Biden announced a plan Tuesday to administer at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine to 70% of the nation’s adult population by July 4.
“After those points, further increases will be limited by demand,” the team said.
There is the potential for a winter surge, the team said. It largely depends on how many more Americans get vaccinated and whether vaccines prove effective against virus variants.
The coronavirus surge in India, linked to the B.1.617 virus variant, has proven that under certain circumstances, virus transmission can “rapidly and explosively” rise, IHME notes.
In a worst-case scenario, in which vaccinated people revert to pre-pandemic levels of mobility, the model estimates 984,950 US Covid-19 deaths by September. If 95% of Americans started wearing masks, the model projects 939,122 deaths by that time.
Deaths likely undercounted: An IHME analysis also found it's likely that the actual death toll from Covid-19 is likely 6.9 million, more than double the 3.2 million deaths that have been officially reported.
The institute said fatalities were likely “significantly underreported in almost every country” due to a combination of factors, including varied testing capacity to confirm Covid-19 cases and deaths and deaths among older individuals that went unrecorded early in the pandemic, particularly among those in long-term care facilities in high-income countries.
Most of the underreporting is “unintentional,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, said in a news briefing Thursday.
“Part of it is just lack of testing and part of it is health care systems just under pressure.”
The United States has reported more deaths than any other country, and the updated IHME analysis estimates the actual number of Covid-19 deaths in the US to be more than 905,000 -- about 58% higher than the reported count of about 574,000. The new analysis estimates the Covid-19 death toll in the US to rise to 949,000 by September.