WASHINGTON, D.C. — Across the country, states are loosening COVID-19 restrictions even though the federal government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to say people should still wear masks inside public spaces.
So how close are we to the end of the health crisis, and why are some public health experts warning of a looming booster shot problem?
Pandemic restrictions from California to New York are going away, day by day.
Nationwide, cases of COVID-19, which spiked over the holidays and throughout January, are leveling off. There are now fewer than 100,000 COVID-related hospitalizations for the first time in over a month.
However, the federal government has not changed its guidance on COVID-19 restrictions.
Mask mandates on airplanes are expected to continue. Some public health experts say that's a good thing because of an emerging booster problem in the U.S.
ISSUE WITH BOOSTERS
"It's woefully low," Dr. Eric Topol, a public health expert with the nonpartisan nonprofit Scripps Research, said of the number of Americans who have sought out booster shots. "The boosting problem is a very serious issue."
Editor's note: Scripps Research is not affiliated with the E.W. Scripps Company, which owns this station.
The number of unvaccinated Americans continues to be a problem, Topol said. However, he says experts should also closely monitor the number of Americans who are not getting a booster shot.
Around 60% of fully vaccinated Americans have chosen not to get a booster shot.
"We are set up for trouble," Topol said.
Topol fears that another variant could emerge in the coming months and set back the country's progress.
He acknowledges that being fully vaccinated still offers protection. But data shows fully vaccinated and boosted Americans are better protected.
"The vaccines hold up really well and then lose their effectiveness," Topol said.
CDC NOT CHANGING
President Joe Biden has encouraged booster shots, but he has not ordered the CDC to change the definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated."
Currently, that status is given if someone has received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
The CDC prefers to classify "boosted" Americans as being "up-to-date" on their shots instead of calling them "fully vaccinated."
That is similar phrasing used when people get the annual flu or tetanus vaccines.
Topol has lobbied the federal government to change the definition of "fully vaccinated" to include booster shots, saying the messaging is confusing.
"It's a three-shot vaccine, and we should be classifying it as such," Topol said.