Biden exceeds expectations on vaccines — so far
President Biden is carefully raising expectations on the coronavirus vaccine rollout, announcing Tuesday that all adults will be eligible to receive a dose in the next two weeks and that the “vast majority” will have received a dose by the end of May.
The White House has been diligent in setting achievable goals for Biden’s response to the coronavirus, which has allowed the president to subsequently exceed or raise expectations.
After initially pushing states to make all adults eligible to receive vaccines by May 1, Biden announced Tuesday that all adults would be able to sign up to receive a dose by April 19. Several states had already made anyone above the age of 16 eligible to receive a vaccine, while others had laid out plans to vaccinate all adults on or before April 19.
Biden also announced that the U.S. has administered more than 150 million vaccine doses since he took office, far outpacing the initial goal of 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office that Biden has since doubled.
“The way that Biden has been operating on a policy level is to underpromise and overperform. He’s wanting to set modest and reasonable expectations and then try his best to exceed those expectations,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University. “I think that is wise from the public perspective because it keeps people in the mind frame that we have to continue to be careful … and that we have to be patient and wait for our turn.”
Polls consistently show that solid majorities of the public approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus — an issue that is top of the minds of many Americans. Democrats are likely to drive home the message that they delivered on vaccines and economic relief to boost their chances in the 2022 midterm elections.
“It sets the tone for everything,” Josh Schwerin, a Democratic strategist, said of the virus response. “The pandemic is the most important issue for voters everywhere, and that’s across party lines and any demographic split, it’s always going to be the top issue. Handling it well is the most important thing Biden can do. That doesn’t mean he can just sit back and relax and not do anything else, but it absolutely sets the tone for the rest of his first term and the midterm elections.”
The Biden administration faces real challenges ahead as new variants and a fresh increase in coronavirus cases threaten progress. Officials are also struggling to vaccinate Americans hesitant to take the vaccine, including some in minority communities and Republicans.
Biden made confronting the pandemic a central focus of his successful presidential campaign and has spent his first 75 days in office focused on addressing the coronavirus.
The Biden administration has worked to accelerate production and delivery of vaccines authorized in the U.S., two of which were approved under the Trump administration and one under Biden, and work with states and local officials to expand access to them. The White House says there will be enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of May.
“Even moving at the record speed we are moving at, we are not even halfway through vaccinating over 300 million Americans,” Biden said Tuesday as he stressed continued vigilance against the virus. “This is going to take time.”
Biden’s approach of setting lower expectations has diverged from that of former President Trump, who regularly set lofty goals related to the virus that were not met. For example, Trump, who has claimed credit for the vaccines, predicted that one could be delivered by Election Day.
“The most important thing is not rhetorical. It’s that people can actually see and feel a difference in their lives,” said Schwerin.
The White House hopes the new April 19 target will provide clarity and enable a quicker pace of vaccinations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday, though officials have made a point to emphasize that Americans who become eligible should not expect to receive a dose on April 19.
The White House is also acutely aware of highly contagious coronavirus variants circulating in the U.S. against which the most powerful weapons are the vaccines.
“The overarching theme here is there’s a recognition that we’re in a race, a race between the vaccines and the variants,” said Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The way out of this is to vaccinate the American public as quickly as we can.”
Biden and his team are encountering hurdles in persuading all American adults to receive the vaccine, with data showing hesitancy among ethnic and racial minority groups and also Republicans.
“It’s one thing to achieve universal eligibility for vaccines. It’s quite another thing to attain universal coverage of vaccines, and I think that’s where his weakness is. That’s where America’s vulnerability is,” said Gostin. “We should cheer the fact that everybody will be eligible, but we can’t pat ourselves on the back because the real goal is herd immunity, and we can’t get to that unless people actually show up and get the vaccine.”
The Biden administration is spending some $10 billion from the coronavirus relief plan to expand vaccine access through community health centers and increase vaccine uptake through support for plans like door-to-door outreach.
At the beginning of April, the administration announced a wide network of 275 organizations — including sports leagues, business and faith groups — that are involved in a grassroots effort to instill confidence in the public about the vaccines.
And with the $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan passed, the administration wants to do more to address the adverse economic impact that the virus has had on American families and businesses.
“The response to the virus is the No. 1 concern for voters. It was in the 2020 election, it will be in the 2022 election and probably in the 2024 one as well,” said Zac Petkanas, a former senior aide to Hillary Clinton. “There is enormous political imperative for Democrats to not only get the health aspects of the response to the virus right but also to get the economic response correct.”