Biden Hails Vaccine Progress While Warning of New Virus Wave
(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration struck sharply divergent notes Monday on the nation’s fight against Covid-19, celebrating a significant ramp-up in vaccinations while also warning of the “impending doom” of sharply rising case numbers among those yet to be immunized.
President Joe Biden, speaking at the White House, unveiled his new “90-90” plan, saying that 90% of U.S. adults will be eligible to get a Covid-19 shot by April 19, and 90% of the nation will live within five miles of a vaccination site as his administration more than doubles the number of participating pharmacies.
But after celebrating having surpassed vaccination targets, Biden quickly shifted his remarks to the recent rise in cases and warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some states’ decisions to relax public-health rules has jeopardized the nation’s recovery.
“With vaccines, there’s hope, which is a very good thing, to state the obvious. But people are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing,” Biden said. “We’re giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains, and as much as we’re doing, America, it’s time to do even more.”
The U.S. is racing to ramp up its inoculation effort before more contagious variants of the virus spread. Several states, including Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia, have lifted restrictions as vaccinations have increased, which risks stoking a resurgence of the pandemic.
“The war against Covid-19 is far from won,” Biden said.
Biden doubled his target for vaccines last week after the U.S. reached his initial goal six weeks early. The U.S. is now giving 2.8 million doses daily of Covid-19 vaccine, as the supply increases and states widen eligibility. The country reached a record three-day stretch of 10 million shots over the weekend, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Roughly three-quarters of vaccines still go directly to states, but Biden has steered a growing share to federal channels, including pharmacies, as supply has increased. That shift has allowed Biden to target disadvantaged zip codes as he tries to address disparities in access, often along racial lines.
At the same time, Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, pleaded with Americans to wear masks and stick with Covid-19 mitigation measures, warning of “impending doom” as cases, hospitalizations and deaths begin to rise again.
Speaking at a press briefing Monday, she fought back tears as she outlined a series of warning signals and said she was frightened about a looming fourth wave of Covid cases. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared,” Walensky said.
As part of his announcement, Biden described plans to launch a dozen more community vaccination sites in the next three weeks. He said vaccines will be made available at nearly 40,000 pharmacies over that time period, from about 17,000 now.
Biden previously directed states to open eligibility to all adults no later than May 1. A total of 31 states have said they will fully open eligibility by April 19. Biden’s announcement Monday is based on those moves -- and will mean roughly 90% of U.S. adults will be eligible, he said.
Still, he begged Americans to keep wearing masks until the virus has further subsided, and alluded to recent images of spring break revelers flouting public health advice.
“We’re in the life and death race with the virus that is spreading quickly, with cases rising again,” he said. “New variants are spreading and sadly some of the reckless behavior we’ve seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead.”
Walensky, too, said spring vacation travel could be fueling the spread. “We’ve seen surges after every single holiday,” she said. “And we’re seeing the uptick of that right now.”
Younger people are increasingly being hospizalized, with those 65 and older -- an age group prioritized for vaccines -- making up a shrinking share of admissions.
Michigan and South Dakota, meanwhile, have seen the biggest increases in admissions. Both Michigan and Florida -- the latter a popular spring break destination -- lead the nation in confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, CDC data show.
Biden called on governors, mayors and businesses to require mask-wearing, even if they had previously lifted such a requirement.
“Please, this is not politics,” he said. “Reinstate the mandate if you let it down, and business should require masks as well. The failure to take this virus seriously -- precisely what got us into this mess in the first place -- risks more cases and more deaths.”
Biden has said the U.S. will have enough supply by the end of May to vaccinate all U.S. adults, though administering the shots could take longer. Until recently, eligibility was typically based on age or whether a person had underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk. Full adult eligibility means anyone 16 or older can get the shot, regardless of medical history.
Biden has pledged to administer 200 million shots in total under his presidency by the end of next month and is on pace to do that.
Biden also announced $100 million in funding to help vaccinate vulnerable and at-risk older adults, and people with disabilities. The program would be aimed at getting those high-risk people scheduled for, and taken to, vaccine appointments, including those with mobility challenges.
The U.S. vaccine effort is buoyed by vast supplies. The administrations of Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, have used wartime powers to prioritize U.S. government orders.
Biden has said the U.S. will begin sharing shots with other nations once it has enough to cover all U.S. adults, including the potential need for booster shots and a stockpile for children, given the uncertainty over which vaccines will be best for younger age groups.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.