WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday set new benchmarks for the United States to return to pre-pandemic life, setting a goal of 70% of adult Americans having at least one vaccine shot by the Fourth of July amid rising pressure for the White House to find ways to expedite a return to normalcy as summer approaches.
The United States surpassed 200 million shots in the president’s first 100 days, and he aims to have 160 million Americans — or 60% — fully vaccinated by the summer holiday, a date he marked in a March prime-time address for America to start to look “more normal.”
Health officials are confident that communities that can achieve a 70% vaccination rate will see sharp declines in individual cases, hospitalizations and deaths, a senior administration official said on a call with reporters Tuesday.
Administration officials also expect the Food and Drug Administration to soon issue an “emergency use authorization” enabling people 12 to 15 years old to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, opening up vaccinations to millions more people.
In the past week, some health experts have criticized Biden and the White House for not better demonstrating the perks of getting vaccinated, a key step they say is necessary in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
After a surge of vaccinations over the past few months, supply of the vaccine has started to become larger than demand as hesitancy becomes the Biden administration’s most significant hurdle in immunizing more Americans.
About 40% of adult Americans are fully vaccinated, but polls suggest that a significant portion of the population does not plan to get a vaccine.
Some have criticized Biden for continuing to wear a mask outside, even though he is fully vaccinated, despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that immunized people do not need to wear masks outdoors if they are not in crowds. The president, they say, should model how restrictions can be relaxed once someone is vaccinated, to encourage more people to do so.
The Biden administration finds itself in a difficult position, however, because the science remains unsettled on what is and is not safe as more Americans get vaccinated. The president must model appropriate public health behavior for the entire country, public health officials say, including areas where infections remain high.
Cases remain at about 50,000 new confirmed infections each day — a number several experts said probably is an undercount because of lower rates of testing — and about 700 deaths per day.
“You’ve got this balancing act. On the one hand, if he can’t stop wearing a mask, then I might not be able to stop wearing a mask and what’s the advantage? There is a strain of that. The other thing that probably is important is . . . we only have 44% of the population vaccinated, so that is a problem,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy.
As Biden sets the new goal, the administration is taking steps to make vaccines more accessible, including directing pharmacies to offer walk-in appointments, redirecting Federal Emergency Management Agency resources to support pop-up clinics and sending more doses to rural health clinics.