WASHINGTON — With just over a month left for the White House to reach its goal of having 70 percent of Americans either fully or partially vaccinated by the July 4 holiday, President Biden announced new measures to galvanize the nationwide inoculation effort.
June will be a “national month of action,” the president said, with some pharmacies remaining open all night on Fridays to administer shots and childcare centers waiving fees for parents going for their vaccinations.
“America is heading into a summer dramatically different from last year’s summer,” Biden said on Wednesday. Last summer, then-President Donald Trump and his allies sought to declare the pandemic over. Despite a June lull in some parts of the country, infection rates rose rapidly in states like Florida, Texas and Georgia.
The prevalence of vaccines means the summer of 2021 is unlikely to see a similar surge. Biden said he envisioned “a summer of freedom, a summer of joy, a summer of get-togethers and celebrations, an all-American summer that this country deserves after a long, long dark winter that we’ve all endured.”
Biden said that the childcare chains BrightHorizons, KinderCare and Learning Care Group, as well as about 500 YMCA outlets in 28 states, would provide free service while parents got vaccinated. It was a recognition, however modest, of the gaps in childcare that the pandemic has routinely exposed.
Details about which pharmacies would offer extended vaccination hours, an initiative clearly aimed at younger people, were not readily available. “If you’re too busy at work or school, you can get vaccinated around the clock,” Biden urged in Wednesday’s remarks.
Younger people, who are generally less vulnerable to the coronavirus but can still transmit it to others, have been less eager to get vaccinated than older Americans. In an effort to promote vaccination, beer-making giant Anheuser-Busch declared on Wednesday morning that it would buy free beer for Americans of legal drinking age if Biden’s goal for Independence Day were met.
Anheuser-Busch’s website appears to have crashed in the wake of the announcement.
“Get a shot and have a beer,” Biden quipped in discussing that giveaway, while also touting vaccine-related promotions by professional sports leagues. Vaccine-related lotteries have also proved popular; the president singled out Ohio, where 22-year-old Abbigail Bugenske became a millionaire through the state’s Vax-a-Million contest.
Biden also said barbershops would engage in a vaccination effort called “Shots at the Shop,” targeted specifically at African American communities. That new program appears to have been modeled after one pioneered in Milwaukee.
In addition, Vice President Kamala Harris will lead a “We Can Do This” vaccination tour through the Midwest and South, where vaccination gaps have been significant. She will be accompanied by her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, and by first lady Jill Biden.
The worry for the Biden administration and some public health officials is that complacency could set in, especially as life rapidly returns to normal for the vaccinated. The ever more visible signs of normalcy could remove some of the urgency that has marked the first stages of the inoculation drive.
“If you are unvaccinated, you are still at risk for getting seriously ill or dying,” the president warned, “or spreading disease to others.”
Vaccine hesitancy has declined in recent months, but challenges remain. For example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that many Latinos want the vaccines but fear taking time off from work, among other considerations.
About 136 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, accounting for 41 percent of the American population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 51 percent, or 168 million, have received the first shot of the two-dose vaccines developed and produced by Pfizer and Moderna (the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single dose).
When the president first announced the Independence Day goal, he mentioned only vaccinations for adults. Since then, vaccines have become available for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. It is not clear which age cutoff the White House is using to calculate whether it reaches its benchmark, but it currently appears to be about 18 million shots short of the mark.
Vaccinations have fallen sharply from their peak of more than 3 million shots per day in early April, but the Independence Day goal is still within reach. Already, 12 states have vaccinated 70 percent of their adults, as the president pointed out in Wednesday’s remarks.
“I promise you, we can do this,” Biden said.
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