“No more confusing rules; no more confusing restrictions,” Biden said in formal remarks Tuesday, as he mixed optimism about vaccines with somber warnings about the spread of new virus variants and a rise in cases.
Biden also announced Tuesday that 150 million coronavirus vaccine shots have now been administered. According to Washington Post tracking, the number stands at 168 million doses administered.
He pleaded with Americans to get their shots and continue to take precautions, adding that a goal of small family gatherings for the Fourth of July remains realistic.
While millions of Americans are getting vaccinated, new coronavirus infections are rising again, as variants of the virus have spread and some states and businesses have begun to relax restrictions. Michigan in particular has emerged as a hot spot.
“The virus is spreading because we have too many people who see the end in sight and think they’re at the finish line already,” Biden said. “Let me be deadly earnest with you: We aren’t at the finish line,” Biden said at the White House. “We still have a lot of work to do. We’re in a life-and-death race against the virus.”
Both Biden and Vice President Harris visited vaccination sites earlier Tuesday as the administration seeks to keep a focus on staying ahead of the pandemic.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Biden told people receiving vaccines at a temporary clinic in Alexandria, Va.
The accelerated eligibility deadline was made possible by the greater availability of vaccines, as well as many states’ decisions to open the process to all adults rather than select groups prioritized by age, vulnerability or occupation.
The administration’s previous goal was to make 90 percent of all adults eligible by April 19, so the new marker is a modest change. It does not ensure that all eligible adults will in fact be given a shot by that date, only that they will be allowed to put their name on a list for whenever an appointment becomes available.
“By April 19, all adult Americans will be eligible to get the vaccine. That doesn’t mean they will get it that day; it means they can join the line that day if they have not already done that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
While large parts of the country still have waiting lists and limited supplies of vaccine doses, the development is a sign that the ambitious goal of mass vaccination in early 2021, once a seemingly remote prospect, probably will be met.
The larger goal is sufficient immunity among Americans to end the spread of the virus and stop a pandemic that has raged for more than a year, claiming the lives of more than 557,000 Americans and disrupting daily life, businesses, schools and more.
When it comes to the virus, Biden has made a practice of announcing goals that turn out to be relatively easy to meet, and then trumpeting his success in surpassing them.
In the weeks before taking office, for example, he promised to average 1 million vaccine doses administered a day during his first 100 days. Two weeks ago, it was clear the country was climbing past that mark, and Biden announced he was raising his goal to 200 million in 100 days.
In announcing — and revising — a series of numerical targets, Biden has sought to create a sense that the nation is speeding past impressive mileposts. That could generate a feeling of momentum in defeating the virus and potentially help Biden politically.
But if the virus has another resurgence, Biden risks being attacked for premature celebration, and he repeatedly tempered his comments Tuesday with reminders that victory is not yet in hand.
More than 4 million people in the United States received a coronavirus vaccine shot on Saturday — the highest one-day total since the shots began rolling out in December — amid a rising caseload and increase in hospitalizations.
A record-low number of U.S. adults are worried about contracting the virus, a new Gallup poll found — 35 percent, down 14 percentage points from February.
Psaki also on Tuesday ruled out a federal “vaccine passport,” or mandatory documentation that a person has been vaccinated, an issue that has become increasingly politicized.
“The government is not now, nor will we be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Psaki said.
She added: “As these tools are being considered by the private and nonprofit sectors, our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is: Americans’ privacy and rights should be protected, and so that these systems are not used against people unfairly.”
Biden’s updated timeline reflects rapidly expanding access to vaccines throughout the country. As of Tuesday, 49 states and D.C. had set forth plans to make shots available to all adults on or before April 19, rather than the previous deadline of May 1.
Hawaii is the lone state not to have moved up its target. Multiple counties within the state have already removed eligibility requirements, however, and a spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige (D) said leaders anticipate expediting the state’s schedule if it continues to receive sufficient doses.
Oregon was the most recent state to accelerate its timeline. In tweets Tuesday morning explaining her decision to aim for April 19, Gov. Kate Brown (D) said the state would spend the next two weeks rushing vaccine doses to front-line workers and people with high-risk medical conditions, both groups recommended for priority access by national immunization experts. She said people of color were overrepresented in both groups, making coverage in these populations critical to the state’s equity efforts.
Ultimately, however, the aim is to vaccinate as many people as possible, Brown said: “We are locked in a race between vaccine distribution and the spread of variants.”
That sense of urgency, combined with expanding shipments that were beginning to ease supply shortages, has led governors to discard elaborate tiering rules designed to steer shots to the most vulnerable and instead invite everyone to get vaccinated.
On Monday alone, 13 states threw open eligibility to everyone 16 and older. New York was among several states that did the same on Tuesday. California will remove eligibility requirements next week.
The moves make the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to those 16 and older, while those developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson can be given to those 18 and above. Each of the companies is testing its vaccine among children, and Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, have already unveiled encouraging data.
In New Jersey, which announced Monday that it would open access to those 16 and older on April 19, health officials were encouraged by the accelerating pace of vaccinations.
“Our doubling time is getting better and better,” said Margaret Fisher, a special adviser to the state’s health commissioner.
Early indications that demand was receding has figured into governors’ decision-making as well. New Mexico, which also removed eligibility requirements on Monday, became a national leader in quickly administering doses, partly by adhering strictly to a tiering system designed to provide for the most vulnerable communities, said Laura Parajón, the state’s deputy secretary of health.
Once health officials saw that demand was slowing down, especially in rural areas, they began planning to open up eligibility, she said. The transition means the primary task in the immunization effort is no longer rationing but overcoming hesitancy and promoting uptake.
“The next phase is just as difficult,” Parajón said. “Our team is getting ready to work on what happens when people don’t want vaccine anymore. It’s the community engagement piece, working with partners.”
John Wagner and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.