Biden says U.S. COVID-19 shots campaign enters 'new phase'

Ruben Fields
May 5, 2021

"There are tens of thousands of Americans who are alive today who would not be alive otherwise had they not had access to a rapid vaccination program", Biden said.

Amid a worrisome dip in Americans getting COVID-19 shots, President Biden said the US vaccination effort is entering a "new phase", with the administration making it easier to get a vaccine, including by unveiling a new federal website to get appointments and directing pharmacies to allow walk-ins.

It appears the White House will now put weekly unordered doses into a kind of federal holding place where states can ask for more depending on their local demand for vaccinations.

In addition to getting 70% at least partially vaccinated, Biden wants "160 million Americans fully vaccinated" by the same date, an official told reporters. "To assist in our oversight of this matter, we request a staff briefing to address the following topics; process for selecting countries eligible to receive vaccine doses and the process to determine how many doses they will receive, including the agencies and individuals involved in those processes and their roles; timeline for shipping doses to other countries; whether us expects to have enough supply of vaccines from other manufacturers to moderate American public without the use of AstraZeneca vaccine, and; whether any legal or contractual barriers present obstacles to shipping doses overseas", added the letter.

Biden's push comes as his administration has shifted away from setting a target for the reach "herd immunity", instead focusing on delivering as many shots into arms as possible.

While the administration's new goal focused on the adult population, administration officials also said they were prepared for the Food and Drug Administration's expected extension of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine's emergency use authorization for children between the ages of 12 and 15. About 30.5% of the population, or about 101,407,318 people, have been fully vaccinated as of last week.

The US will be sending 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to other countries starting from June 2021, the White House announced earlier.

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Another senior administration official said young people who may not feel threatened by the coronavirus would be encouraged to get vaccinated.

While younger people are at dramatically lower risk of serious complications from COVID-19, they have made up a larger share of new virus cases as a majority of US adults have been at least partially vaccinated and as higher-risk activities like indoor dining and contact sports have resumed in most of the country. Officials hope that extending vaccinations to teens will further accelerate the nation's reduced virus caseload and allow schools to reopen with minimal disruptions this fall. As of mid-April, the country was administering just under 3.4 million vaccine doses each day.

Governors were informed of the change by the White House Tuesday morning.

This week, Iowa turned down almost three quarters of the vaccine doses available to the state for next week from the federal government because demand for the shots remains weak.

The White House previously resisted efforts to distribute vaccine by metrics other than population. Republican-led states in the South have lower vaccination rates than Democratic-led states in the Northeast and the West, and some states aren't ordering their full allotment of doses because of lower demand for shots among their residents.

The Democrats told reporters that they were hopeful that Tai, a former House Democratic staffer, would announce new action on the waiver at WTO sessions this week.

Individual states have made similar shifts internally to account for changing demand. But Gov. Jay Inslee said that the amounts now will be based on requests from health care providers.

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