More than 4.2 million Americans have been given their first Covid-19 vaccine. Experts say the US needs to go faster

A pharmacist works to dilute the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine while preparing it to administer to staff and residents at the Goodwin House Bailey's Crossroads, a senior living community in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 30, 2020.

With more than 4.2 million people given their first doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far, experts say the pace of inoculation in the US needs to speed up.

"No excuses -- we're not where we want to be, but hopefully we'll pick up some momentum and get back to where we want to be with regard to getting it into people's arms," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press.

More than 4.2 million people had been given the first dose of coronavirus vaccines as of Saturday morning and 13 million doses had been distributed, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid Data Tracker said. The federal government had repeatedly promised 20 million people would have received their first shots by the end of the year.

But the pace is picking up, with about 1.5 million doses administered in 72 hours, Fauci said. That means the speed of vaccinations is actually better than the numbers suggest at first glance, he added.

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser for Operation Warp Speed, told CBS's Margaret Brennan Sunday that 17.5 million doses have been shipped and that the US federal government is optimistic they will be administered more quickly.

Currently vaccines are going to healthcare workers and long-term care patients, but eventually officials hope to distribute them to the wider public. While waiting for vaccines, the US has reported more than 100,000 coronavirus hospitalizations for 33 consecutive days, with the highest number set Sunday at 125,544, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

With people in many countries traveling over the holidays, it will be important to "have patience and stay the course" when it comes to preventing spread, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead for coronavirus response, told CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

"We're in for a bit of a rough start to 2021," Van Kerkhove said.

Covid-19 surges across states

Surging cases in many states have resulted in hospitals struggling to meet the demand of treating coronavirus patients.

In Los Angeles County, one person contracts the virus every six seconds, Mayor Eric Garcetti told CBS's Face the Nation, attributing the spread to the density of the population and household spread.

More than 45,000 new cases were reported in California Sunday as the state's hospitalization rate reached its highest since the start of the pandemic, with 21,510 people currently being treated in hospitals, the state's health department dashboard shows.

In Arizona, the state reported its highest daily total of cases Sunday with more than 17,000. There are 1,081 patients currently in the ICU with Covid-19, while there are 4,557 total patients hospitalized.

South Carolina reported a 29.6% coronavirus positivity rate Sunday as four of the state's 46 counties reported their hospitals were at 100% capacity, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"There's no running away from the numbers," Fauci told ABC. "It's something that we have absolutely got to grasp and get our arms around and turn that inflection down by very intensive adherence to the public health measures, uniformly throughout the country, with no exceptions."

'What we do now matters,' US Surgeon General says

There is hope that the US and other countries experiencing coronavirus surges could get back to something resembling normal by the summer or fall, Kerkhove said.

But measures like testing, isolation, contact tracing and quarantining have already brought that sense of normalcy to other countries, she said.

"We've seen countries bring this virus to its knees, without vaccination," she said. "We have the tools at hand right now to actually bring this virus under control."

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams urged Americans, especially those who gathered over the holidays, to self-quarantine, get tested, wear a mask, wash their hands and watch their distance.

"The projections are pretty scary, but they're projections, and what we do now matters," Adams told CNN's Jake Tapper. "I want people to understand that if we get over this current surge, then things will start to get better, but it depends on the actions that we all take right now."

Adam's wife, Lacey, was admitted to the hospital due to complications from her cancer treatment. He said he was not able to see her because of Covid-19.

"I want people to understand that if you don't take precautions against Covid because you don't feel at risk, it can impact you, your family, your community in so many other ways," he said. "I, as the Surgeon General of the United States, had to drop my wife off at the front door and couldn't see her go in to the hospital, hadn't been able to visit her, didn't know if she was going to have a hospital bed because of all of the Covid precautions."

CNN's Naomi Thomas, Virginia Langmaid, Kay Jones, Gregory Lemos and Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.

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