US sets target of 70% of population having one vaccine shot by July 4th
US president Joe Biden: “Democrats and Republicans, people of all persuasions, are getting vaccinated.” Photograph: Alex Edelman
US president Joe Biden unveiled a fresh drive to accelerate the covid vaccination rollout in the United States, including a commitment to extend vaccines to young teenagers pending regulatory approval next week.
Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Mr Biden announced a new goal of ensuring that 70 per cent of the US adult population receives at least one vaccine shot by July 4th “in an effort to get this country closer to normal”.
“The light at the end of the tunnel has actually got brighter and brighter,” he said, noting that almost 150 million Americans have had at least one shot. “It’s a dramatic turnaround from where we were in January.”
“Tens of thousands of Americans are alive today who would not have been alive today if they had not had access to rapid vaccination programmes.”
But he also outlined details of a “new phase” in the vaccine rollout strategy amid signs of low take-up in some parts of the country. In particular, officials will turn their focus to improving access to vaccines in rural areas of the US.
“We know that vaccination rates are lower in rural areas, and that’s why we’re going to get vaccines closer than ever to rural residents,” Mr Biden said, announcing new funding for rural clinics and hospitals, and plans to allow pharmacies to offer vaccines shots to people without appointments. He said that, as the government’s mass large vaccination sites wind down, the focus will be on smaller locations and pop-up and mobile clinics that will be “more convenient for the unvaccinated”.
Mr Biden also signalled he planned to move ahead with the vaccination of 12-15 year olds. It comes as the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, is expected to grant emergency authorisation for the Pfizer vaccine to be used on young teenagers early next week – a move that would significantly expand the number of Americans eligible to get vaccinated.
“The FDA and the FDA alone will make that decision,” he said, but added: “Today I want American parents to know that if that announcement comes, we are ready to move immediately.”
Noting that adolescents can “get sick and spread the virus to others”, he said, “My hope is that if the vaccine is authorised, parents will take advantage of it and get their kids vaccinated.” He said that one option being considered was that teenagers would be able to get their second vaccine in a different location to their first vaccine if they are “on the move” during the summer months.
Mr Biden appealed to all Americans of all political persuasions to take the vaccines, amid polls showing that Republicans are more likely to be sceptical of vaccines than Democrats.
“Go get the shot as soon as you can,” he said. “We’re going to make it easier than ever to get vaccinated . . . As more and more Americans see their friends and families get vaccinated, they’re making the choice to get vaccinated themselves. Democrats and Republicans, people of all persuasions, are getting vaccinated.”
The prospect that America’s supply of vaccines will soon outstrip demand has increased pressure on the US to share some of its vaccine stock with other countries struggling with the pandemic.
Noting that the administration had agreed to share up to 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines with other countries in the coming months, Mr Biden said the US will have exported 10 per cent of its supply to other countries by July 4th.
Responding to questions from reporters after his televised address, Mr Biden confirmed reports that he may meet Russian president Vladimir Putin next month when he visits England and Belgium.
“It is my hope and expectation,” he said when asked about the prospect of a meeting. “We’re working on it.”