WASHINGTON – President Biden, facing delayed vaccinations that threaten his promise of near-normality by July 4, revised the pandemic strategy on Tuesday, shifting from mass vaccination sites to more local settings to target young Americans and those who are reluctant to get vaccinated.
In a speech at the White House, Mr Biden said he was launching a new phase in the fight against the coronavirus, with a goal of at least partially vaccinating 70% of adults by Independence Day and with advocacy staff to all unvaccinated. : “This is your choice. It is life and death.
After three months of battling supply shortages and distribution bottlenecks, the Biden administration faces a problem the president has declared inevitable: many who were most eager to get vaccinated l ‘have already done. Vaccination sites in stadiums once filled with wagons of people seeking vaccines are closing, and states that once demanded more vaccines are finding they can’t use all the doses the federal government has wants to send them.
Yet the administration’s own health experts say tens of millions more Americans need to be vaccinated before the infection rate is low enough to revert to what many people consider ordinary life.
The administration now wants tens of thousands of pharmacies to allow people to be vaccinated. He has also commissioned pop-up and mobile clinics, especially in rural areas, and plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on community outreach workers to provide transportation and help organize child care for those in neighborhoods to. high risk who want to be vaccinated.
To build confidence in vaccines, federal officials plan to enlist the help of family physicians and other envoys 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 their full allotment of doses in any given week, this vaccine would be considered part of the package. ‘a federal pool available for other states that wish it. to order more. Until now, if states did not order all their assigned doses based on population, they could defer that supply to the following week.
Mr Biden also announced a new federal website and a new phone number that will help people find the vaccination site closest to them. “We are going to make vaccination easier than ever,” he promised.
The administration is hoping for an increase in vaccinations if the Food and Drug Administration approves the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15 early next week, as scheduled. The president said adolescents are important in the fight against the virus because, although they are not as susceptible to serious illnesses, they can still get sick and infect other people.
Experts say the United States may never achieve collective immunity, at which point the virus will die out due to a lack of hosts to transmit it. And the president hinted that the nation was still a long way from beating the pandemic.
While the vast majority of seniors have been vaccinated, “we still lose hundreds of Americans under 65 every week,” Biden said. “And many more get seriously ill after long periods of time.” He warned the nation would vaccinate people in the fall.
Yet, said the president, if 70% of the country’s adults received at least one shot of the vaccine by July 4, “Americans will have taken a serious step towards a return to normalcy.”
To get there, Biden said, the government needs to shift attention from mass vaccination sites to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other local settings, and make a much more concerted effort to reach those who are reluctant to go. get vaccinated or just understand it. is too much trouble.
“We will continue,” the president said, expressing optimism that “most people will be convinced that their inability to get vaccinated can lead to illness and death for others.”
As of Tuesday, more than 106 million people in the United States were fully vaccinated and more than 56% of adults – nearly 148 million people – had received at least one vaccine. This has contributed to a sharp drop in infections, hospitalizations and deaths across all age groups, federal officials said.
But despite a flood of available doses, the pace of vaccination has dropped significantly over the past two and a half weeks. Providers are now administering an average of about 2.19 million doses per day, a decrease of about 35% from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr Biden called for 160 million adults to be fully immunized by July 4 – an increase of 55 million people, or more than 50%. About 35 million more adults are expected to receive at least one vaccine to meet the president’s goal of 70 percent of adults who are at least partially protected. While this next phase of the immunization effort is “easier because I don’t have to put together this massive logistical effort,” Biden said, “the other way around it’s more difficult. , it is beyond my personal control. ”
Asked whether the United States would help other countries that are worse off, the president promised that by July 4 his administration “would have sent about 10% of what we have to. other nations ”. 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 vaccine stockpile of the country as a whole. He also pledged to act quickly “to get as many doses of Moderna and Pfizer as possible and export them around the world.”
Until now, White House officials have stuck to formulas that allocate vaccine doses to states by population, and they have been extremely reluctant to send doses of approved vaccines overseas. The administration had refused to shift doses to states that were quicker to administer them for fear that rural areas or underserved communities would lose to urban or richer areas where residents were more willing to be vaccinated. .
But as the pace of vaccination slows, officials decided that the benefits of a more flexible system outweighed this risk.
States that want more than their allocation will be able to request up to 50% 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 claim all of their allowances next week, officials said.
This change makes little difference to some states that have steadily reduced as many doses as the federal government was willing to ship. But it might help some states that are able to use more than the federal government was sending.
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 in a different phase of our immunization effort when supplies were more limited and states were mostly ordering at their full allocation or almost.”
Virginia is a good example. Last week, for the first time, the state did not order all the doses it could have, said Dr Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator.
Now, he said, “supply exceeds demand statewide, and the work will be much slower and more difficult as we find ways to vaccinate a few people at a time.” Dr Avula said the change “will be very helpful for the handful of states that still have localized areas of high demand.”
Low demand states, such as Arkansas, may find that their assigned doses are shipped elsewhere. Arkansas has only used 69% of the doses it has been given so far, the data shows. Last week, a spokeswoman for the state’s health department said the state had not ordered doses from the federal government. Just over a third of adults in Arkansas have received at least one dose, one of the lowest totals in the country.
Ms Psaki said the administration was working with states to determine what kinds of parameters made the most sense at this point in 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 family physicians and pediatricians would play a key role in promoting the vaccination program, as would other community figures. If the Pfizer vaccine is licensed for adolescents, he said, the administration plans to make it immediately available to them at about 20,000 pharmacies participating in the federal immunization program.
But some doses will be shipped directly to pediatricians so “parents and their children can talk to their family doctor and get vaccinated by a provider they trust the most,” said the president. Dr Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said last week that about 80% of people trying to decide on a vaccine say they want to talk to their doctor about the decision – and we’ve heard it loud and clear. “