Biden’s Speech Urges Vaccines, Skips Over Masks and Pivots From Covid

President Joe Biden’s speech to Congress focused heavily on the promise of a post-pandemic rebound, with only brief warnings of the virus’s staying power and slowing vaccination rates, and no mention of masks.

Biden’s first speech to Congress on Wednesday was centered on policies designed to lead America out of the pandemic, including trillions of dollars in new spending designed to propel the recovery.

Biden’s Speech Urges Vaccines, Skips Over Masks and Pivots From Covid

But, as he touted his recovery plan, Biden didn’t dwell on the pandemic that has fueled the crisis in the first place. He took note of its toll and pleaded with Americans to get their vaccine doses, but didn’t reprise any public health advice on masks or other measures and then pivoted swiftly to other policy initiatives.

“Go get vaccinated, America. Go and get the vaccination,” Biden said, to applause from members of Congress.

Biden’s messaging in the speech represented a balancing act -- claiming credit for progress in curtailing the spread of Covid-19 in the U.S. while telling Americans the pandemic hasn’t ended, and touting vaccines and not other mitigation efforts that have proven more politically polarizing. He continued to hold out hope for a gradual return to normal.

Biden’s Speech Urges Vaccines, Skips Over Masks and Pivots From Covid

“There’s still more work to do to beat this virus. We can’t let our guard down. But tonight, I can say because of you — the American people – our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history has been one of the greatest logistical achievements, logistical achievements, this country has ever seen.”

Biden also said the U.S. would soon become an “arsenal” of vaccines for the world, though tempered that by saying “every American will have access before that occurs.” The White House announced this week that it will soon start sharing doses of the AstraZeneca Plc Covid-19 vaccine, which isn’t authorized for U.S. use, but hasn’t said how quickly or specified which countries will receive shipments.

The U.S. contracts with Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. run through at least July and are prioritized under wartime powers. The U.S. continues to have trouble scaling up production of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, and has seen a stockpile of AstraZeneca doses pile up while only so far “loaning” 4.2 million of them to Mexico and Canada.

Biden stitched warnings about the pandemic throughout his 65-minute speech but placed more emphasis on the opportunities to rebuild from its devastation than the remaining fight to snuff it out for good. He used the speech to tout his proposed American Jobs Plan and the ensuing American Families Plan, the second and third legislative acts stemming from his Covid response.

Biden’s Speech Urges Vaccines, Skips Over Masks and Pivots From Covid

‘New Phase’

It’s the latest in what Biden has dubbed a “new phase” of his pandemic response, as vaccination numbers plateau and his administration shifts to programs to steer shots to people who might not otherwise bother.

Health officials, urging Americans to get their vaccine, released new guidance Tuesday that inoculated people can socialize outdoors without masks. In one of the most significant relaxations of guidelines since the pandemic began, officials also said fully vaccinated people can drop their masks when exercising and dining outside and gathering indoors with other immunized people.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks in a wide array of situations, even for the fully vaccinated. Americans face a barrage of conflicting signals from different levels of government. Many states have abolished mask mandates altogether, while issued far more cautious recommendations.

Despite abundant supply, the daily average rate of shots has been declining for over a week, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The recent pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could further complicate efforts to convince holdouts.

Biden has stopped short of extending or renewing certain goals -- he pledged 100 million shots in 100 days, then doubled that target and hit it, without setting a new one. He didn’t set a new one Wednesday.

He also took office asking Americans to mask up for 100 days, and has since shifted to touting the CDC guidelines, which are more mixed. His prepared remarks Wednesday didn’t mention masks at all.

Biden did speak to reporters on Tuesday, laying out the new CDC guidance on masks, and urging even vaccinated Americans to still wear them at crowded outdoor events, like stadium events and concerts. He touted the loosening of guidelines for vaccinated people as an incentive for others to get the shot.

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