Biden hits crunch time on vaccinations

President Biden has less than a month left to reach perhaps his toughest coronavirus vaccination goal yet.

Biden’s objective is to give 70 percent of the U.S. adult population at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, even as the pace of vaccinations slows and those without their shots are increasingly hesitant to get them or are harder to reach.

“I don’t think it is against the odds,” said William Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution who also served as a policy adviser in the Clinton White House. “It’s what’s known in the business community as a ‘stretch goal.’ If the administration is very well organized and focused, there’s a pretty good chance they can get there.”

At the same time, the White House has also turned its attention to the arduous task of vaccinating the globe, which experts say is necessary to stop the virus and its dangerous variants from circulating.

The president has thus far been rewarded by the public for his coronavirus response, which has been his administration’s principle focus since he took office. Biden had set realistic, achievable vaccine goals in the first months of his administration as a way to measure his response to the virus.

And there has been good news on the virus front with large numbers of Americans getting vaccinated: COVID-19 cases and deaths fell to their lowest levels since March 2020 over the past week.

About 63 percent of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Approximately the same percentage of Americans approve of Biden’s response to the coronavirus crisis, according to an average of polling from FiveThirtyEight.

“I think the American people are right to give him high marks,” Galston said. “There were a few glitches in the beginning — no surprise there. But it’s been a no drama, high achievement effort.”

The White House is now ramping up efforts to incentivize vaccinations, address concerns about the shots and make it as easy as possible for Americans to get vaccinated as it looks to reach the remainder of the population.

“I give the administration tremendous credit for what they have done to date. The challenge we have is now, this really is almost a person-by-person recruitment effort,” said Michael Osterholm, a prominent epidemiologist who served on Biden’s coronavirus advisory board during the transition. “It takes a lot of work to get this last percentage of people vaccinated, and we know there will be a core group of people who will just under no circumstances get vaccinated.”

As part of a “national month of action” in June, the White House is partnering with a variety of organizations and businesses to reach the holdouts. Major day cares will offer free child care for parents getting vaccinated, Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons will offer information on vaccines and host vaccination events and Vice President Harris will spearhead a national tour to promote vaccinations.

The White House has also promoted private-sector initiatives, such as sweepstakes launched by Kroger, CVS and United Airlines for vaccinated individuals.

Officials have raised concerns about low vaccination levels in the South, where Harris will focus her travel. Poll after poll shows a partisan divide on vaccinations, with Republicans less likely to seek the shot.

“The greatest challenge is the polarization challenge,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “Getting vaccinated has almost become like a political test.”

Payne said Biden needs “Republican validators” in former President Trump’s orbit to help with vaccination.

The White House, he added, has “to make sure that the efficacy of the message isn’t wearing off.”

A number of prominent Republicans have encouraged vaccines, including former President George W. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Trump has also endorsed the vaccine while indicating he respects people’s “freedom” to choose whether to get vaccinated.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the administration would do everything in its power to reach Biden’s July 4 goal. Asked about the low vaccination rates in the South, she said that local leaders, such as physicians and clergy, are the best messengers for those wary of the vaccine.

“Ultimately, this is going to be up to individuals to get shots in their arms. We can take every creative step we possibly can take. We also understand we don’t have 100 percent control here, but we’re going to do everything we can from the federal government to reach that goal,” Psaki said.

Getting as many people vaccinated as possible is also important to hastening the economic recovery, which showed signs of accelerating during the month of May as more people returned to in-person activities and the U.S. economy added 559,000 jobs, a significant improvement over the disappointing April employment report.

Biden argued in a speech on Friday that his agenda laid the groundwork for the jobs growth, while appealing for more Americans to get vaccinated.

“Now is the time to build on the foundation we laid because while our progress is undeniable, it is not assured,” he said, pushing for his $4 trillion economic plan. “This much is already clear: We’re on the right track. Our plan is working, and we’re not going to let up now.”

White House officials have highlighted the fact that a dozen states have already met or exceeded Biden’s goal for 70 percent of adults to have at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine. And with enough vaccines in the domestic supply, the administration this week began shipping millions of doses overseas in order to help countries in need.

Osterholm described the goal as an aspirational but realistic benchmark to understand how the U.S. is doing nationally when it comes to the virus response and credited the Biden administration with far exceeding its initial goal of administering 100 million doses in the president’s first 100 days in office.

“In order to understand where we’re going, we have to have a goal,” he said.

Osterholm said that Biden’s next focus should be getting 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated, noting the dangers of a new variant against which studies show one dose is not as effective. He also described the administration’s move toward boosting global vaccinations as a critical first step in a long journey to ending the pandemic worldwide.

“From the global standpoint, you want to protect the integrity and protection of our vaccines, the last thing that you want is more variants to come out,” he said. “This is why it is so urgent to get the world vaccinated, not just some of the world.” 

Tags brookings institution Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 vaccine CVS Donald Trump inoculation Jen Psaki Joe Biden Kroger Mitch McConnell United Airlines Vaccination Vaccine hesitancy

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