President Biden said Tuesday he is launching a “door-to-door” fight against COVID-19, making shots available to more doctors’ offices and pharmacies in a scramble to reach unvaccinated Americans as dangerous variants threaten new outbreaks.
Mr. Biden said his team will emphasize pediatricians so that patients ages 12 to 18 can get immunized ahead of the school year and fall sports.
Shots will flow to 42,000 neighborhood pharmacies, he said, so people can get a shot after grabbing their toothpaste. He‘s also leaning on employers to make vaccination available at worksites and will dispatch additional mobile clinics to areas of need.
All the while, he plans to send federal rapid-response teams to ZIP codes that are seeing large case counts due to poor vaccination rates. Responders will test and trace cases to isolate the outbreaks.
“We need to go community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood,” Mr. Biden said, underscoring the shift from mass efforts.
COVID-19 vaccines are plentiful in the U.S. but only 47% of the population is fully vaccinated. Experts say 70% to 90% of the population should be immunized to wrangle the virus, particularly as it evolves into more dangerous forms.
The White House is struggling to bolster vaccination rates in recent weeks, because the most eager already have came forward.
The most resistant are dug in, citing potential side effects or distrust of government, while those younger than 25 have been lax about coming forward because they don’t fear the virus.
Mr. Biden called on young people to reconsider their belief that COVID-19 won’t affect them, as the delta variant manages to hospitalize younger groups than the original strain.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration knows it is ultimately up to individuals to decide whether they will be vaccinated but they will “double down” on its efforts.
“We believe that we need to continue to press to get more people in the country vaccinated,” Ms. Psaki said. “These programs will continue.”
She said there is no federal mandate on the horizon, though some universities and employers are issuing vaccination requirements.
“We leave it up to them to make that decision,” Ms. Psaki said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health recently said 99% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are among unvaccinated people.
Officials are worried that a dual picture will emerge in which parts of the nation suffer from low vaccination rates and outbreaks, while other parts resume normal life.
And they are terrified the virus will respond to a partially vaccinated society by mutating into a form that can penetrate the existing shots’ dome of protection.
While parts of New England enjoy low case counts and vaccination rates of over 60%, southwestern Missouri reported a delta-driven outbreak and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is warning about rising transmission as he tries to boost vaccination rates in his state.
Authorities in Galveston, Texas, reported 125 infections tied to an outbreak at a church camp. Vaccines were recently approved for those 12 and older, so some children might not have had the chance to get vaccinated before the virus spread and, in some cases, came home with them.
Mr. Biden is navigating a duality of his own, celebrating his administration’s progress in the fight against the pandemic while warning about potential pitfalls moving forward.
He said 90% of older adults and 70% of Americans over 27 are fully vaccinated. In terms of raw numbers, about 160 million Americans will be fully vaccinated by end of the week.
“The virus is on the run and America is coming back,” Mr. Biden said, before adding: “Our fight against this virus is not over. Millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected.”
Mr. Biden insisted that available vaccines can wrangle the delta variant that is blanketing the planet.
Recent data from Israel suggested the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness against infection dropped from 93% to 64% as the delta variant circulated and societal restrictions ended. However, the vaccine was still 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations and severe illness.
The White House said the data were preliminary and other studies have shown better results against the delta variant, while others have noted the data show an increase in breakthrough infections but not a proliferation of severe disease.