Biden Sees Normalcy Returning by Summer as Vaccinations Surge
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden offered a Fourth of July goal for the U.S. to begin returning to normal as “light in the darkness” to a weary nation on Thursday, counting on a rapidly expanding supply of coronavirus vaccine to raise American hopes.
In his first prime-time address as president, Biden told states he wants all adults in the U.S. made eligible for vaccines by May 1. That vision was already within reach before his announcement, on the first anniversary of lockdowns that paralyzed the world’s largest economy.
The new goal carried echoes of the last time Biden made a promise he was already on track to meet -- his declaration before taking office that his administration would preside over 100 million doses of vaccine jabbed into American arms in his first 100 days. By the time he was inaugurated, the U.S. was already nearing a pace of 1 million shots a day, virtually assuring the goal would be achieved.
And sure enough, Biden said Thursday that the nation would hit the threshold next week, just 60 days into his presidency, as vaccinations have sharply accelerated to a pace of more than 2.2 million shots per day, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Still, the new steps he announced to bring the pandemic to heel helped turn his speech into a bright contrast with his predecessor, former President Donald Trump. Biden’s remarks were heavy on empathy and encouragement for Americans exhausted by demands that they isolate from family and friends and wear masks outside their homes.
And by getting ahead of progress already underway in states, Biden can claim another accomplishment as vaccines are made available to all Americans in the weeks to come.
“If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July 4 there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together,” Biden said.
Biden spoke to a scarred American public, where about one in five Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to Covid-19, according to a new Associated Press poll.
The roughly 24-minute address served as table-setting for a White House with ambitious plans for the coming months – and facing substantial headwinds, from the lingering pandemic to razor-thin majorities on Capitol Hill that give the president little room for error.
While vaccinations are slowing infections by a virus that has already killed 530,000 Americans, the president still must manage a massive logistical effort, convince skeptics to get their shots, and do both before new, more contagious variants of the virus potentially emerge.
Read more: Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker
“I need you,” Biden told his audience. “I need every American to do their part.”
Biden’s announcement Thursday built on a previous goal: that he expects to have enough doses of vaccine for all U.S. adults by the end of May. With that expected wave of shots incoming, he took the next step by urging states to kick off the month by making every adult, regardless of age or other health conditions, eligible to seek a shot.
Alaska has already opened eligibility to all adults, and New York City is expected to be able to do so by late April or early May -- right around Biden’s target.
Nonetheless, Biden’s public pledge, phrased as a directive to states, will likely spur along the move and reflects his growing confidence in a stream of shots from the three producers whose vaccines the U.S. has authorized: Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.
Biden’s administration expects enough doses from those three companies by June to fully vaccinate nearly 300 million people. The shots are only recommended for use in those age 16 and up, and the U.S. has just over 260 million adults.
Aides said Biden spent the week before the speech line-editing his remarks, acutely aware of the need to strike the right chord.
That meant trying to balance empathy regarding the staggering death toll and the economic impact of shutdowns with a message of hope, but also explaining the further government response on the way and any additional sacrifice that might be necessary.
Biden also approached the remarks with a desire to clearly and directly convey information about the government’s actions, White House officials said, answering logistical questions and quelling concerns Americans may have had as they tuned into the televised speech.
For example, in assuring Americans that the vaccines are safe, he cited Anthony Fauci, the government’s foremost infectious disease expert.
Biden announced that the administration was doubling the number of pharmacies and federal mass vaccination sites offering shots, and that he would deploy about 4,000 additional active-duty troops to assist in the effort. The government will create a website and open a 1-800 number to help Americans find available shots, and offer technical support to states developing their own such services.
Biden’s details, as well as his caution -- he said at one point that if stimulus failed, he would acknowledge it -- begged comparisons with Trump’s speech, exactly a year ago, in which he bungled details of his administration’s response to the emerging virus while maintaining the risk to most Americans was “very, very low.”
Biden opened his remarks with implicit criticism of his predecessor, saying that when the virus arrived in the U.S., it was “met with silence and spread unchecked.”
“You’re owed nothing less than the truth,” Biden said. ”For all of you asking when things will get back to normal, here is the truth. The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track, is to beat the virus.”
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