Biden’s Vaccine Path Gets Tougher as Pace of Shots Slows 37%
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden is running out of Americans willing to roll up their sleeves for Covid-19 shots, dragging out his bid to vanquish the pandemic and forcing the administration to refocus its vaccination strategy.
Biden and his aides detailed the latest phase of his pandemic response this week as domestic demand for vaccinations dries up and inoculations slide. The U.S. is now giving an average of 2.13 million shots a day, down from 3.37 million about three weeks ago. And on Tuesday, which has the lowest shots of any day of the week, fewer than a million were given for the first time since February.
In response, Biden is altering his strategy. The administration announced this week that it would concentrate more on smaller clinics and mobile sites in rural areas, while planning to wind down mass-vaccination sites.
The low-hanging fruit in the U.S. vaccine campaign is gone, and the modesty of Biden’s latest goal reflects the challenge: He has pledged about another 100 million shots in the next 60 days. That’s the same pace as his first 100 million, when vaccines were at a premium, but roughly half the pace of his second 100 million.
“It’s going to get more granular, I think, rather than large,” Biden said at the White House this week.
He again pleaded for Americans to get shots, and cast the slowdown as long expected.
“At the end of the day, most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get the vaccine may cause other people to get sick and maybe die,” he said.
Biden’s challenge would be the envy of nearly every other country -- a surplus of shots and a shortage of arms. Across the U.S., 57% of adults have received at least one dose. Biden hopes to hit 70% by July.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday found that 9% of respondents in April hadn’t gotten the vaccine but still planned to as soon as possible, down from 30% a month earlier. Another 15% said they’d wait and see, while 19% said they would never get it or would do so only if required.
Lack of information remains a hurdle -- 29% of respondents, and 42% of Hispanic respondents, said they’re not sure if they’re yet eligible.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reaching these different groups, and a variety of strategies will be needed,” foundation Executive Vice President Mollyann Brodie said in a statement.
The impact of a slowing inoculation rate remains unclear. U.S. Covid cases are falling, with the 7-day average of new cases now 12% lower than the week before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published research Wednesday that modeled trend lines for U.S. case numbers in several scenarios. In two of them, high vaccination rates drive new cases down to nearly nothing by September, while two models with lower vaccination rates still forecast a decline, though not as sharply.
“These modeled scenarios show that ongoing efforts to continue to increase vaccination coverage and maintain physical distancing, masking, isolation, and quarantine are warranted,” the authors wrote.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the study offers both hope and a warning.
“The results remind us that we have the path out of this,” she said at a briefing Wednesday. But spreading variants of the virus could keep the pandemic simmering for months to come if vaccinations lag, she said.
“We need to keep vaccinating people, but we all need to keep practicing certain prevention interventions to help us get to the predicted good outcomes,” she said.
Biden’s team, meanwhile, has backed away from predicting a threshold for so-called herd immunity, when enough of the population is vaccinated to prevent the virus’s spread. Biden’s medical advisers have said “it’s probably a phrase that doesn’t really apply here to this particular virus in this circumstance,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told CNN this week.
Some experts downplay the vaccination slowdown, pointing to Israel, which saw a sharp decline in cases when roughly 40% of its population was fully vaccinated. As of now, 45% of people in the U.S. -- including kids, who aren’t eligible for shots -- have one dose and 32% are fully vaccinated.
Some level of decline was inevitable. “While I want to have as high a vaccination rate as possible, I’m not worried about it,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The point of vaccinations was to reduce Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, and high uptake of shots among more vulnerable people has already begun to do that, he said.
“We knew that, when we went into the general population, there was going to be less of a motivation for vaccination, and we would hit a wall, but we’re still seeing the benefits of the vaccine,” he said.
Biden’s team has downplayed the slowing pace of shots, saying it was always expected as the number of vaccinated people increased. They draw a distinction between the holdouts -- some are skeptics, while others are willing to get the shot but simply won’t seek it out. Polls show the number of people who say they won’t get the shot has been falling.
The White House has worked for months “to get prepared to make sure that vaccines find people if people aren’t going out of the way to find them, to make it easy, and to make sure that people’s questions get answered,” adviser Andy Slavitt said Wednesday.
Text for Shots
The administration’s new phase includes three pillars. One is making vaccines easier to find.
The government has created a text-message tool and websites to find appointments, and has ordered pharmacies to make more walk-in appointments available.
The administration also will begin shipping more vaccine to rural health clinics and mobile sites, in part to focus on the roughly 10% of Americans who live more than 5 miles from a vaccine site.
Biden is also working with businesses to set up incentives for people to get a shot. For example, his team on Wednesday touted discounts offered at Albertsons Cos. Inc. Safeway stores, CVS Health Corp. stores and Target Corp. for people who get vaccinated.
Secondly, Biden’s team is trying to persuade reticent Americans to get shots, urging them to talk to their doctors, pharmacists, faith leaders or vaccinated neighbors.
“Nearly 85% of seniors have had at least one vaccination shot, and the wide cross-section of the nation trust the vaccine regardless of race or ideology,” Biden said. “Now we need to make that same progress for those under 65 years of age.”
Biden appealed to younger people to get the shot. “Even if your chance of getting seriously ill is low, why take the risk when you have a safe, free, and convenient way to prevent it?”
Finally, Biden is preparing a push for vaccinating adolescents. Pfizer Inc.’s shot may soon be authorized for children age 12 to 15 -- potentially opening eligibility to millions who can’t get a shot now.
If authorized, the administration will move quickly to distribute shots through existing channels, including about 20,000 pharmacies, as well as through pediatricians’ offices. Biden will push to get as many teenagers as possible their first shot by July, to ensure they’re fully vaccinated in time for school in the fall.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.