WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden to use the weekend of July 4 to tout “America’s independence from Covid-19” even as he fails to hit his vaccination target with pockets of the country still largely unvaccinated and a new, more contagious variant spreading rapidly.
It will take another month for Biden to reach his goal, and the White House is already looking ahead, weighing the next challenge the pandemic will bring and recalibrating expectations.
White House officials admitted they had more work to do, but said the holiday weekend is also a time to celebrate the progress the country has made. White House Covid coordinator Jeffrey Zients said the country would remain on a “war footing” and step up efforts to get more Americans vaccinated.
“The American people should be proud of the work we have done collectively and we want to recognize that progress and that work on July 4,” Zients said Thursday. “People who are vaccinated have a high level of protection and those who are not vaccinated are at risk. “
At the White House, the July 4th vacation will appear much like before the pandemic with an event for around 1,000 essential workers and military families on the lawn and traditional fireworks on the National Mall without any Covid restrictions -19 is applied. Biden also visited a crowded Michigan tourist destination for the vacation weekend on Saturday.
The nation is different from what even Biden predicted a few months ago.
In March, as he marked a year after the lockdown and vaccines became more and more available, Biden said there was a “good chance” people could get together in small groups for barbecues in the court to celebrate Independence Day, but no major events and warned that progress could stall with new variations.
Since then, however, an additional 117 million people have been at least partially vaccinated and cases have dropped from over 60,000 per day to just under 12,000, thanks to the widespread availability of vaccines.
But the White House is not ignoring the warning signs that progress could stall. Cases have risen by 10 percent over the past week as the new hyper-transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, now accounts for more than a quarter of cases in the United States and will likely soon be the dominant strain here, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday.
“It’s far too early to declare mission accomplished,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who helped advise Biden’s transition to Covid-19. “In communities with low vaccination rates, transmission remains as high as it was at the peak in January. Our goal should be to make sure that we have vaccinated the most vulnerable among us, and we are not there yet. “
Biden will miss his goal of having 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4, with 67% having received at least their first dose, according to CDC data. At the current rate of around 300,000 new people per day to get vaccinated, it will take about a month to reach the 70% mark, according to an NBC News analysis.
Unless you start encouraging mandates, it’s still unclear what more the administration can do to encourage others to roll up their sleeves. They made the vaccine available within five miles of 90% of Americans, rolled out mobile vaccination clinics, rolled out clever advertising campaigns, sent celebrity surrogates, and encouraged a range of incentives from free beer to prices of. million dollar lottery for those vaccinated.
Part of the case that the administration has come more and more forward is to warn that the new Delta variant appears to pose a greater risk to young people than older strains of the virus. Public health groups have also worked to highlight stories of young people experiencing the long-term effects of the virus, such as fatigue, loss of taste and headaches.
“They’re taming the pandemic in the United States, but we’re a long way from where we need to be,” said Tom Frieden, former CDC director under the Obama administration. “Almost all deaths in the United States from Covid are now among the unvaccinated. Covid is down, but not out. “
Meanwhile, doctors say they are bracing for a fall and winter wave in areas of the country with low vaccination rates.
“If you look at the numbers at the national level, they can mislead you into thinking that all is well, and we don’t risk another fall and winter wave, but we are and it will just be regional,” Vin Gupta said. , pulmonologist and assistant professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington.
In Michigan, where Biden was on Saturday for what the White House called a celebration of “our country’s progress against the virus,” vaccination rates vary widely. In Oakland County, an affluent suburb of Detroit, 65% of eligible residents received at least their first dose while only 38% of those in Detroit received a dose, according to city data.
Denise Fair, Detroit’s chief public health officer, said after trying everything from pop-up centers to visiting churches and barbershops, they were now going door-to-door with the vaccine, pairing clinicians waiting in mobile trucks with door knockers.
“We have made several options available to the Detroiters. There is no more excuse because now we even go door to door directly to people to get shot, ”she told NBC.
Gupta said he doesn’t think the country might feel like it has overtaken the virus until researchers have longer-term data on the vaccine’s effectiveness, which won’t happen. before at least next year.
More people around the world also need to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of an anti-vaccine variant that could send the country back to square one, he said. The Biden administration said it missed its target of shipping 80 million doses of vaccine overseas by the end of June, sending only half that amount as it resolved logistical challenges In each country.
“The gap between the current situation and the full development of football and the feeling of having passed this stage is only a scientific knowledge of how long the vaccine protects us,” Gupta said. “At the end of the day, I think the big unknown will be inequalities and global access to the vaccine and will this injustice really cause a variant to emerge that will make existing vaccines useless. “