White House publicly acknowledges the U.S. is likely to miss Biden’s July 4 vaccination goal

The White House publicly acknowledges the U.S. is likely to miss Biden’s July 4 vaccination goal.
Santiago Gonzalez, right, 18, with his mother, after receiving a coronavirus vaccine in Miami in May. The White House on Tuesday publicly acknowledged that President Biden does not expect to meet his goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 and will reach that milestone only for those aged 27 and older.

It would be the first time that Mr. Biden has failed to meet a vaccination goal he has set. If the rate of adult vaccinations continues on the current seven-day average, the country will come in just shy of Mr. Biden’s target, with about 67 percent of adults partly vaccinated by July 4, according to a New York Times analysis.

White House officials have argued that falling short by a few percentage points is not significant, given all the progress the nation has made against Covid-19. “We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program,” Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic response coordinator, said at a news briefing. “This is a remarkable achievement.”

In announcing the goal on May 4, Mr. Biden made a personal plea to the unvaccinated, saying getting a shot was a “life and death” choice. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 177 million have received at least one dose.

Young adults aged 18 to 26 have so far proven particularly hard to persuade. “The reality is many younger Americans that felt like Covid-19 is not something that impacts them, and they’ve been less eager to get the shot,” Mr. Zients said.

He said it would take “a few extra weeks” to reach more of that group to achieve the goal of 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated.

Mr. Zients and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, both stressed that the administration’s efforts would continue long after that benchmark is reached. Seventy percent “is not the goal line, nor is it the end game,” Dr. Fauci said. “The end game is to go well beyond that, beyond July 4 into the summer and beyond, with the ultimate goal of crushing the outbreak completely in the United States.”

But health experts warn that the falloff in the vaccination rate could mean renewed coronavirus outbreaks this winter when cold weather drives people indoors, with high daily death rates in areas where comparatively few people have protected themselves with shots.

“I give credit to the Biden administration for putting in place a mass vaccination program for adults that did not exist,” said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “But now we’ve hit a wall.”

In recent weeks, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus have declined sharply nationwide. As of Monday, the seven-day average of new virus cases across the United States was 11,243 cases a day, a nearly 30 percent decrease over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

But Dr. Fauci also warned of the rising prevalence of the Delta variant, first identified in India, which is more contagious than previous versions of the virus and may cause more severe disease. The variant now accounts for an estimated 20 percent of new infections, he said.

The vaccines authorized in the United States are effective against the Delta variant, and he said the increase lent urgency to the campaign to vaccinate as many Americans as soon as possible.

Unless tens of millions more Americans get vaccinated in the next few months, Dr. Offit said, “I think, come winter, we are going to again see a surge. And that surge is going to occur exactly where you would expect it to occur — in areas that are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.”

Dr. Fauci said that “there is a danger, a real danger, that if there is a persistence of a recalcitrance to getting vaccinated that you could see localized surges” or regional spikes.

But he added: “I don’t think even under those circumstances that you’re going to see things like 1,000 deaths a day.” At the height of the post-holiday surge in January, the known daily death toll in the United States exceeded 4,000.

Lazaro Gamio contributed reporting.
With eight million shots in a day, India tries to energize its vaccination effort.
Receiving a Covid shot during a door-to-door vaccination and testing drive in West Bengal State, India, on Monday.
Credit…Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

India administered 8.6 million doses of Covid vaccines on Monday, setting a national record on the first day of a new policy that offers free vaccines for all adults and aims to energize a lackluster inoculation effort.

Despite a slow start characterized by supply shortages and bickering between the states and central government, officials say that vaccine production and procurement are being accelerated to ensure that all of India’s roughly 950 million adults are fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

Monday’s total was the most Covid shots given in a single day in any country besides China, and the surge may have been partly because the vaccines were widely available and free for the first time to those younger than 45.

Local news reports have also suggested that Monday’s record may have been made possible by holding back vaccines in some states run by the governing party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In one state, Madhya Pradesh, the number of administered doses had shrunk to just 692 a day before the start of the new policy on Monday, when 1.6 million doses were suddenly administered.

And the boost was probably temporary — currently available supplies suggest that it would be difficult to sustain such a pace over the coming weeks. India has increased the availability of doses to 120 million this month, from about 75 million in May. About 135 million doses are expected to be available in July.

The inoculation drive relies almost entirely on two vaccines manufactured in India, and government officials have said that the companies behind those vaccines, the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, have promised to deliver a total of about 1.3 billion doses from August to the end of the year. The remaining doses are expected to come from other vaccines still under assessment or trial.

In India, a nation of about 1.4 billion people, the task ahead remains enormous. Although the country has administered nearly 290 million doses of vaccines so far, according to government data, less than 5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Less than 20 percent of people have received at least one dose.

The government has worked to iron out supply issues and ease online registration requirements that have hampered vaccine access, especially in parts of the country where smartphone and internet availability are spotty. Still, vaccine hesitancy — born of local superstitions, as well as misinformation spread by some political and religious leaders — persists, officials say.

The effort to ramp up vaccinations comes as the worst of India’s devastating second wave appears to be over, with most of India’s major cities easing restrictions and reopening the economy. India reported about 42,000 new cases on Monday, down from a peak of more than 400,000 in early May. The weekly test positivity rate has remained below 5 percent for two consecutive weeks, a sign that undetected cases in the population are also decreasing.

About 390,000 people have died of Covid in India, according to official figures, although experts believe that is a significant undercount. In recent weeks, Indian news outlets have published numerous reports of “excess deaths,” a figure that compares the average number of mortalities during normal times with the increased toll during the pandemic. The difference is often much higher than the Covid toll reported by the states, suggesting that the virus has claimed many more lives than the official statistics reflect.

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