Biden looks to fulfill increasingly ambitious vaccine promises

Alexander Nazaryan
·National Correspondent
·5 min read

WASHINGTON — One day after President Biden announced that he would instruct all states to make every American adult eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine by May 1, his administration announced several measures to facilitate the ambitious goal, which has required unprecedented logistical organization.

"We need to make it easier for every American to get vaccinated," said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, during a Friday briefing with reporters on the state of the pandemic. "May 1 is an absolute deadline," he reiterated, though there could be days or even weeks between a person becoming eligible to receive a vaccine and actually becoming vaccinated. That is bound to be especially true in dense regions of the Northeast and the West Coast, where demand has been especially high.

About 2.2 million people are being vaccinated daily, an increase of about 1.3 million daily vaccinations since Biden was inaugurated in January.

So far, most states have opened up vaccine distribution to the elderly, people with preexisting medical conditions and some frontline workers, such as doctors and teachers.

That has left millions of Americans waiting, with varying degrees of patience. Private initiatives like Dr. B have sprung up to match people with vaccine doses that might otherwise go unused. Some 1.6 million people have signed up for that service, an indication of how eager Americans are to regain some measure of pre-pandemic life with the arrival of warm weather.

A person receives a shot of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a community vaccination event in Martinsburg, West Virginia on March 11, 2021.  (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
A person receives a COVID-19 shot at a community vaccination event in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The coronavirus vaccines were developed through Operation Warp Speed, an $18 billion partnership between private industry and the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters have claimed that Biden has not given sufficient credit to his predecessor for having those vaccines developed in rapid time. (White House senior coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt praised Operation Warp Speed as “a great thing” earlier this week.)

Trump was frequently undone by his own promises about when people would be vaccinated and the pandemic would finally end. His promises were so consistently unrealistic that people simply lost trust in him.

Biden and his advisers have been cautiously strategic on both fronts, at first vowing to vaccinate 1 million people daily, a goal some said was not nearly ambitious enough. It has since been surpassed, allowing Biden to claim that expectations had been not only met but exceeded.

Zients announced several measures to drive the daily rate of vaccinations even higher, including doubling the number of mass vaccination centers in operation and increasing the number of pharmacies that can administer the vaccine to 20,000. An additional 700 community health centers will also take part in the vaccination effort, along with 250 that are already doing so.

A new website is in the works to make vaccines easier to find, Zients said. So is a call center, to serve people who do not have regular internet access.

Stations where COVID-19 vaccines will be administrated are shown set up at a mass vaccination site on March 10, 2021, at the Lumen Field Events Center in Seattle. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other officials announced Wednesday that the site would begin operation Saturday, and said it would be the largest civilian-led vaccination site in the country. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Stations at a mass vaccination site in Seattle. Local officials said the site, due to begin operations on Saturday, would be the country’s largest civilian-led vaccination site. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Friday also saw the announcement that the Biden administration would add more vaccinators, unveiling a new website where they can register to volunteer. Dentists, podiatrists, paramedics, veterinarians, midwives and optometrists can now volunteer to administer vaccines.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are promising to roll out more doses in the coming weeks. Last week the president announced a deal that will have Merck assisting Johnson & Johnson in vaccine production.

Some 64 million Americans have had at least a single dose of a coronavirus vaccine (all but the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine require two doses), said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky during a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force on Friday.

But only 10 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, meaning that herd immunity — the point at which the share of the inoculated population is so high that the virus has little room to proliferate — is still months away. Israel, meanwhile, has vaccinated some 80 percent of its adult population.

Biden had previously promised that there would be enough vaccines available for every American by the end of May. Thursday evening’s promise — that every American adult would be eligible by the start of that month — did not necessarily hasten the timeline but did signal to states that they ought to move faster.

“There hopefully will be states that open up before then,” Zients said, referring to vaccine availability. Only one has so far: Alaska, where anyone above the age of 16 is now eligible for vaccination. The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Biden signed into law on Thursday contains $14 billion for vaccine distribution.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an address to the nation in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 11, 2021. Biden is addressing a pandemic-weary nation to mark the day a year ago when the spread of coronavirus forced Americans into isolation, swiftly collapsing the economy and portending more than a half-million deaths. Photographer: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Biden speaking to the nation on Thursday evening. (Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Though the CDC’s initial guidance for vaccinated people was cautious, Biden suggested on Thursday that as more people became vaccinated, the guidance would become less restrictive. During the Friday briefing, administration officials invoked the president’s call for Americans to work toward a nearly normal Independence Day.

Speeding along vaccination will determine, in good part, whether friends and relatives attend Zoom barbecues or congregate in real life over burgers and beers.

“This is our path out of the pandemic,” Walensky said.

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