President Biden on Tuesday told states to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by April 19, signaling that he is confident that governors can offer an appointment to anyone who wants one instead of carefully moving through priority groups.
It moves up his full-eligibility deadline by nearly two weeks, as the supply of three approved vaccines improves and the nation administers more than 3 million shots per day.
Mr. Biden pleaded for patience even as he boasted about the record pace of vaccinations in pursuit of herd immunity.
“Even moving at the record speed we’re moving at, we’re not even halfway through vaccinating over 300 million Americans. This is going to take time,” Mr. Biden said from the State Dining Room at the White House.
Many governors were on track to beat the president’s earlier goal of widespread eligibility by May 1, so Mr. Biden put a federal stamp on decisions made by the bulk of states. Some leaders appeared to adjust in line with Mr. Biden’s demands, however.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday she will open eligibility on April 19, mirroring Mr. Biden’s call. On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced they were expanding eligibility to residents 16 and older on April 19, while Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said 16-and-up would be eligible at mass-vaccination sites this week and all sites on April 12.
The Biden administration said at a minimum, there is value in the top-line message — that as of April 19, everyone can sign up for a shot no matter where they live.
“No more confusing rules, no more confusing restrictions,” Mr. Biden said.
He said the move should spur seniors and other high-priority people to get in line if they haven’t by now. More than half of American seniors are fully vaccinated and three-quarters have received at least one dose, though a share remains unprotected.
“Seniors, it’s time for you to get vaccinated now. Get vaccinated now,” Mr. Biden said.
The U.S. is ahead of most nations in getting people immunized against COVID-19, which has killed more than half a million Americans and nearly 3 million people worldwide.
About a third of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 20% of Americans are fully vaccinated.
The country is using a trio of vaccines: The Pfizer-BioNTech version is approved for those 16 and older, while the Moderna version and one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson are approved for recipients 18 and older.
The push to vaccinate as many Americans as possible comes amid concern about rising cases. Officials say younger, unvaccinated people are driving the spread. And while younger people tend to see better outcomes from COVID-19, government scientists want to vaccinate the problem away before the virus mutates into more dangerous versions.
“We’re making incredible progress. There’s a lot of good news,” Mr. Biden said. “But there’s also some bad news. New variants of the virus are spreading and they’re moving quickly. Cases are going back up, hospitalizations are no longer declining. While deaths are still down, way down from January, they’re going up in some places.”
The U.S. is aiming to vaccinate 70%-85% of the population to achieve herd immunity, though some states might see higher demand than others.
“I do think this puts pressure on governors. And I do think there will be imbalances in supply and demand,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “We’re already seeing lower demand in some areas. So strategies will continue to evolve as we continue to do everything we can to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Mr. Biden applauded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, for encouraging Republican men to get vaccinated as polls show they are among the most reluctant.
Vaccine development began under former President Donald Trump through “Operation Warp Speed.”
Experts credit the former president with placing bets on multiple vaccine candidates and putting the right conditions and funding in place to test and manufacture the shots at the same time, so they would be ready in less than a year.
Mr. Trump got his vaccine off-camera before leaving the White House in January but has demanded more credit for the effort.
“Wow, so nice,” he said Tuesday in a post-presidency statement that linked to a Palm Beach Daily News column about his administration’s role in the vaccines.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, has taken victory laps for his role in taking the shots and expanding the range of avenues for getting them into arms.
Nearly 170 million shots have been administered. The campaign began before Mr. Biden took office, though on Tuesday he celebrated the 150 millionth shot given under his watch.
The president’s latest goal is 200 million shots within the first 100 days of his presidency.
“We got to keep moving,” he said. “If we could raise it up higher, I would do that as well.”
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