As the pace of U.S. vaccination slows, President Biden announced a shift in federal strategy on Tuesday afternoon away from mass vaccination sites to smaller, more local settings in an attempt to boost the campaign to get more shots in arms.
He said that he is directing tens of thousands of pharmacies to offer walk-in appointments for coronavirus vaccine shots, creating more pop-up and mobile clinics and shipping more doses to rural clinics, all aimed at vaccinating 70 percent of American adults at least partially by July 4.
“We’re going to keep at it,” he said in his remarks. Ultimately, “most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get the vaccine may cause other people to get sick and maybe die.”
The federal government has also decided that if states do not order their full allocation of doses in any given week, that supply can be shipped to other states that want more. States previously were able to carry over to the following week doses that were available to them but that they did not order.
In the afternoon address, the president pledged more funding for outreach campaigns designed to convince those reluctant to get shots of the need to protect their own health and that of others. Despite a flood of vaccine available, providers are administering about 2.29 million doses per day on average, about a 32 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Senior health officials have decided that herd immunity — the point at which the virus dies out for lack of hosts to transmit it — will likely remain elusive. But if 70 percent of the population is at least partially vaccinated, the nation can keep gradually removing restrictions that impede normal life, one senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity at a briefing for reporters.
The president will call for about 160 million adults to be fully vaccinated by Independence Day. As of Monday, more than 105 million Americans were fully vaccinated and at least 56 percent of adults — or 147 million people — had received at least one shot. That has contributed to a steep decline in infections, hospitalization and deaths across all age groups, federal officials said.
To increase availability of shots, the White House informed states that if they choose not to order their full allocation of vaccine each week, the doses will go back into a federal pool so that other states can draw on it, according to state and federal officials.
States that do not claim their full allotment one week will not be penalized because they will still be able to request the full amount the next week, officials said.
The shift, reported earlier Tuesday by The Washington Post, makes little difference to some states like Virginia that have routinely drawn down as many doses as the federal government was willing to ship. But it could help some states that are able to use more doses than the federal government allotted to them based on their population. They will now be allowed to ask for up to 50 percent more doses than the government allotted them.
Until now, White House officials had been unwilling to shift doses to states that were faster to administer them out of concern that rural areas or underserved communities would lose out to urban or richer areas where residents were more willing to get shots.
But with the pace of vaccination slowing nationwide, officials have determined that freeing up unused doses week by week will not exacerbate equity concerns. Some state officials have been arguing for the change for weeks.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that the move offered governors more flexibility.
“Even just a few weeks ago we were in a different phase of our vaccination effort, when supply was more constrained and states, for the most part, were ordering at or near their full allocation,” she said.
Virginia is a case in point. Last week, for the first time, the state did not order every dose it could have, Dr. Danny Avula, the state vaccine coordinator, said.
“Supply is exceeding demand across the state, and the work will be much slower and harder as we find ways to vaccinate a few people at a time.” he said. But freeing up excess doses “will be very helpful for the handful of states that still have localized areas with high demand,” he said.
Arkansas, which has only used 69 percent of the doses delivered to the state, declined last week to order any doses from its weekly allotment, according to a state health department spokeswoman. Just over a third of adults in the state have received at least one dose, one of the lowest totals in the country.
The administration is hoping for an uptick in vaccinations if the Food and Drug Adminstration authorizes the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 15. Regulators could decide whether use of that vaccine can be expanded as soon as the end of this week.