With Vaccination Goal in Doubt, Biden Warns of Variant’s Threat

WASHINGTON – With the United States failing to meet its self-imposed deadline of 70 percent of adults being partially vaccinated against the coronavirus by July 4th, President Biden stepped up efforts to inject Americans on Friday, warning that those who refuse to risk becoming infected with a highly contagious and potentially fatal variant.

In an afternoon appearance at the White House, Biden avoided mentioning the 70 percent target he set in early May and instead trumpeted about another milestone: 300 million shots in his first 150 days in office. But even as he was celebrating the success of the vaccination campaign, he sounded gloomy about the worrying Delta variant, which is spreading in states with low vaccination rates.

“The best way to protect yourself against these variants is to get vaccinated,” said the president.

His remarks came as his government made one final push over the next two weeks to meet the July 4th goal. Vice President Kamala Harris and Xavier Becerra, Minister of Health and Human Resources, were both out on Friday to inspire enthusiasm for the vaccine. Ms. Harris went to Atlanta, where she found that less than half of the people in Fulton County, where the city is located, had at least one chance, and Mr. Becerra went to Colorado.

Mr Biden took office in January warning of a “dark winter” as deaths were near the peak and vaccinations barely underway, and he has generally tried to portray the virus as a withdrawal while he was out for six months approaching in office.

A leaflet distributed by the White House ahead of Friday’s statements found that in 15 states and the District of Columbia, 70 percent or more of adults had received at least one injection. “The results are clear: America is starting to look like America again and is entering a summer of joy and freedom,” the document reads.

But vaccination and infection rates are inconsistent across the country.

And while those who have taken a “wait and see” stance are becoming more open to vaccination, 20 percent of American adults still say they definitely won’t get the vaccine or will only get vaccinated when needed, according to a poll published last month by Kaiser Family Foundation.

State health officials are trying to convince the hesitation. In West Virginia, where just over a third of the population is fully vaccinated, Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus tsar, said that young people are particularly difficult to attract.

“Back in the pandemic there was a narrative that really haunts us, namely that young people are really protected,” he said. “There is a false belief that many young people who are otherwise healthy still have relatively free travel and that if they get infected they are fine.”

In Louisiana, where only 34 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and only 37 percent are receiving at least a single dose, state officials on Thursday announced a new lottery for anyone in the state who received a dose, with a grand prize of $ 1 million.

And in Wyoming, with vaccination rates almost identical to Louisiana, Kim Deti, a health department spokeswoman, said “politicization is a problem” as officials try to increase the number of people vaccinated. But she said there were other reasons for the rate slowdown in her state as well.

“We have had relatively low Covid 19 illnesses nationwide for some time, which has an impact on the perception of threats,” Ms. Deti wrote in an email. “Since schools are open all school year and most companies have almost everything open for the past year, some people may find it more difficult to identify the personal need for a vaccination.”

Speaking to students at a vaccination mobilization event at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia on Friday, Ms. Harris warned of the dangers of misinformation and formulated the decision to get vaccinated to regain power from the virus.

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June 20, 2021, 4:23 p.m. ET

“Let’s arm ourselves with the truth,” she said. “When people say that it looks like this vaccine was made overnight – no, it didn’t. It is the result of many years of research. “

When setting the July 4th goal in early May, Mr Biden said the meeting would show that the United States has taken “a serious step towards a return to normal,” and for many people it already seems to be to be. This week California and New York lifted virtually all of their pandemic restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.

But the time frame is tight. Analysis by the New York Times shows that if the adult vaccination rate continues at the seven-day average, as 67.6 percent of American adults have at least one vaccination, the country will just miss Mr. Biden’s 70 percent target received by July 4th.

According to the CDC, 65 percent of adults had received at least one injection by Friday. But the number of Americans getting their first injection has steadily declined to about 200,000 a day since Mr. Biden announced that June would be a “month of action” to achieve his goal.

“I don’t see any intervention that could really bring back an exponential increase in demand to get the kind of numbers we probably need to get to 70 percent,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, the Association of State’s chief medical officer and area health officer.

Experts say the difference between 67 percent and 70 percent is insignificant from a disease control perspective. But from a political point of view, it would be the first time that Mr Biden has set a pandemic-related goal that he has not achieved. He has always set and exceeded relatively modest goals, including his pledge to have 100 million shots in the arms of Americans by his 100th day in office.

“The 70 percent target is not a fixed number; not getting it right doesn’t mean the sky is falling, ”said Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation. “On the other hand, it has symbolic meaning. Much effort has been put into reaching this point and not hitting it, a reminder of how difficult the remaining distance will be. “

In the White House, Mr Biden’s aides are now saying they are less concerned with meeting the 70 percent target than they are in making the nation feel the sense of normalcy the president promised. Just a few months ago he was talking about small family barbecues on July 4th, and now large gatherings are possible.

To prove it, the White House is also planning a grand celebration of “independence from the virus” on July 4th with fireworks on the National Mall here in Washington and a gathering of more than 1,000 military personnel and key workers who will join Mr. Biden . Ms. Harris and her spouses watch the festivities from the South Lawn.

When the 70 percent target was announced on May 4th, Mr Biden made a personal appeal to all those who had not been vaccinated: “That is your decision. It’s about life and death.”

A month later, in early June, he attempted to win the nation over by proclaiming a “Month of Action” and suggesting incentives, including offering free childcare for parents and carers while they receive their shots. He also promised a national advertising campaign that resembled an election campaign.

Since then, White House officials say, nonprofit and community groups across the country have held testing and vaccination events, particularly in black churches. Planned Parenthood has invested in paid phone banking, and the Service Employees International Union has partnered with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials to run vaccination clinics and promotions.

When asked about the July 4th deadline this week, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator, specifically avoided saying the nation would break the 70 percent threshold by that date would achieve.

“We have made tremendous progress,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of people continue to get their first shots every day, and we’re going to get 70 percent, and we’re going to go beyond 70 percent in the summer months.”

Annie Karni contributed the coverage from Washington and Amy Schoenfeld Walker from Trumbull, Conn.

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