WASHINGTON – President Biden, faced with lagging vaccinations threatening his promise of near-normality on July 4, rethought the strategy to combat the pandemic on Tuesday, shifting from mass vaccination sites to more local settings to target younger Americans and those who are reluctant to receive an injection.
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden said he was launching a new phase in the fight against the coronavirus, with the goal of vaccinating at least 70 percent of adults by Independence Day and making a personal plea for all unvaccinated . : "This is your choice. It is life and death."
After three months of fighting against supply shortages and distribution bottlenecks, Biden's government is facing a problem the president said was inevitable: Many of those most eager to get vaccinated have already done so. . Vaccination sites in stadiums that were once filled with loads of people looking for shots are closing, saying that once they called for more vaccines, they won't be able to use all the doses the federal government wants to send to them.
Still, the government's own health experts say tens of millions of Americans still need to be vaccinated before the infection rate is low enough to return to what many people consider normal life.
The administration now wants tens of thousands of pharmacies to let people walk in for injections. It has also ordered pop-up clinics and mobile clinics, especially in rural areas, and plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on community workers to provide transportation and help arrange childcare for those in high-risk neighborhoods who wish to do so . vaccinated.
To build confidence in vaccines, federal officials plan to enlist the help of primary care physicians and other emissaries who are trusted voices in their communities.
In a new effort to match supply and demand, federal officials informed states on Tuesday that if they did not order full allotment of doses in a given week, that vaccine would be considered part of a federal pool that available to other states that wish to do so. to order more. If states have not ordered all of the doses assigned to them by population thus far, they could carry that supply over to the following week.
Mr. Biden also announced a new federal website and phone number that will allow people to find the vaccination site closest to them. "We're going to make it easier than ever to get you vaccinated," he promised.
The administration is hoping for an increase in vaccinations if the Food and Drug Administration uses the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years old early next week, as expected. The president said adolescents were important in the fight against the virus because, while they are not as prone to serious illness, they can still get sick and infect others.
Experts say the United States may never achieve herd immunity, the point where the virus dies due to a lack of hosts to transmit it. And the president suggested the nation was far from overcoming the pandemic.
Although the vast majority of seniors are vaccinated, "we still lose hundreds of Americans under the age of 65 every week," said Mr. Biden. "And many more become seriously ill from long periods at the same time." He warned the nation would vaccinate people in the fall.
Still, the president said that if 70 percent of adults in the country received at least one injection of vaccine on July 4, "Americans have taken a serious step toward a return to normal."
To get there, said Mr Biden, the government needs to shift its focus from mass vaccination sites to doctor's offices, pharmacies and other local institutions, and make a much more coordinated effort to reach those who are reluctant to get injections or just get behind it. come. is too much trouble.
"We will continue," the president said, optimistically saying that "most people will be convinced that not getting the vaccine could cause other people to get sick and maybe even die."
As of Tuesday, more than 106 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated and more than 56 percent of adults – or nearly 148 million people – had received at least one injection. That has contributed to a sharp decline in infections, hospitalizations and deaths across all age groups, federal officials said.
But despite an abundance of available doses, the rate of vaccination has dropped significantly over the past two and a half weeks. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suppliers now give an average of about 2.19 million doses per day, about a 35 percent drop from the peak of 3.38 million reported April 13.
Mr. Biden called for 160 million adults to be fully vaccinated by July 4 – an increase of 55 million people, or more than 50 percent. About 35 million more adults would need to get at least one injection to reach the president's goal, which is 70 percent of adults who have received at least one injection. While this next phase of the vaccination effort "is easier because I don't have to do this huge logistical effort," said Mr. Biden, "in the other sense it's harder, it's beyond my personal control."
When asked if the United States would help other countries that are worse off, the president promised that by July 4, his government would "have sent about 10 percent of what we have to other countries." It was not clear whether he was referring only to doses of AstraZeneca, which is not authorized for distribution in the United States, or to the nation's vaccine stockpile as a whole. He also pledged to act quickly "to get as many doses of Moderna and Pfizer as can be produced and export them around the world."
Until now, White House officials have held onto formulas that assign vaccine doses to states by population, and they have been extremely reluctant to send doses of approved vaccines abroad. The government had been unwilling to shift doses to states that could deliver them more quickly out of concern that rural areas or disadvantaged communities would lose out to urban or wealthier areas where residents were more willing to take photos.
But as the rate of vaccination slows, officials have decided the benefits of a looser system outweigh that risk.
States wanting more than their fate will be able to request up to 50 percent more doses, officials said. States that do not claim all of their doses one week will not be penalized and will still be able to request their full allocations the following week, officials said.
The shift makes little difference to some states that have routinely taken as many doses as the federal government was willing to send. But it could help some states that could use more than the federal government shipped.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that the move gave governors more flexibility. "Even just a few weeks ago," she said, "we were at a different stage of our vaccination effort when supply was more limited, and most states ordered at or near their full allotment."
Virginia is an example of this. Last week, for the first time, the state did not order every dose it could receive, said Dr. Danny Avula, the state vaccine coordinator.
Now, he said, "the supply is greater than the demand in the state, and the work will be much slower and more difficult as we find ways to vaccinate a few people at once." Dr. Avula said the change "will be very helpful to the handful of states that still have localized areas in high demand."
Low demand states, such as Arkansas, may find their assigned doses being shipped elsewhere. Arkansas has used only 69 percent of the doses administered so far, data shows. Last week, a state health service spokeswoman said the state has not ordered doses from the federal government. Just over a third of Arkansas adults have received at least one dose, one of them the lowest totals in the country.
Ms. Psaki said the government was working with states to determine which institutions made the most sense at this point of the vaccination campaign.
"We're constantly evaluating the best delivery mechanisms," she said, "and if something isn't the most effective we'll make changes."
Mr. Biden suggested that primary care physicians and pediatricians will play a key role in driving the vaccination program forward, as will other figures in the community. If the Pfizer vaccine is approved for adolescents, he said, the administration plans to make it available to them immediately at about 20,000 pharmacies participating in the federal vaccination program.
But some doses will be sent directly to pediatricians so that "parents and their children can talk to their primary care physician and get the injection from a provider they trust most," the president said. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said last week that about "80 percent of people trying to decide on a vaccine say they want to talk to their doctor about that decision – and we've heard that loud and clear."