▶ Watch Video: Low vaccine rates fuel fear of COVID surge in the South

President Biden’s push to get 70% of Americans vaccinated by the Fourth of July is hitting roadblocks, even with million-dollar lotteries and free beer.

Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of last week. This week, it’s inched up to almost 64%. 

But in a handful of states — mostly in the South — fewer than half of adults have had a shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rates are so low that at the current pace, it would take Mississippi more than a year to reach the 70% vaccination goal and two-and-a-half years for Alabama to hit it. 

“It’s not just that they’re low, they’re really low,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “If you remember this time last year, we were looking pretty good. Then we saw this massive surge and I worry with the low vaccination rates in the South, we could see something like that again.” 

The hesitancy to get the vaccine includes hospital workers. A USA Today study found the number of workers fully vaccinated at the nation’s largest hospitals ranges from 91% at the high end to just 51% at the low end. 

Houston Methodist Hospital says it has vaccinated 99% of its 26,000 workers across eight campuses. The hospital is requiring staff to be vaccinated by Tuesday or risk losing their job. 

“We have incredible real world experience to show that [the vaccines] are safe and effective,” said Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist Hospital. “We’re in a pandemic here and we are a hospital system that cares for vulnerable people.”

More than 100 employees have filed suit against the hospital, including Jennifer Bridges, a nurse. 

“There’s not enough research on board. It’s not fully FDA approved. It’s still experimental,” Bridges said about her decision to hold off on the vaccine. 

Boom called it a “nonsense claim.” But Bridges said she won’t change her mind and Monday will be her last shift at the hospital. 

The federal government recently updated vaccine guidance for employers, saying they could require workers to be vaccinated. But companies are required to allow for medical and religious exemptions.