The White House admitted on Tuesday that it will miss an ambitious Covid-19 vaccination goal: administering at least one jab to 70% of US adults by the Independence Day holiday.
Jeff Zients, the coronavirus response coordinator, said the administration would need “a few extra weeks” to reach that target, in part because Americans aged 18 to 26 are delaying progress.
“The reality is, many younger Americans have felt like Covid-19 is not something that impacts them, and they’ve been less eager to get the shot,” Zients said.
“However, with the Delta variant now spreading across the country and infecting younger people worldwide, it’s more important than ever that they get vaccinated.”
Almost two-thirds of US adults have had at least one dose and about 56% are fully vaccinated, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Among Americans aged 30 or older, 70% have had at least one shot. The White House expects the same for those 27 or older by 4 July, Zients said.
“We are entering a summer of joy, a summer of freedom,” he said. “This is cause for celebration, and that’s exactly what Americans will be able to do on 4 July: celebrate independence from the virus.”
After Joe Biden took office, the administration easily blew through an initial goal of 100m vaccinations in its first 100 days. Covid-19 vaccines have been available to the public for months. Nationally, new infections have plummeted.
“We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program,” Zients said. “And as a result, we’ve successfully executed the most complex, logistical task: administering 300m shots in just 150 days.”
Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said the administration had set the 70% target to meet the low end of an estimate for attaining herd immunity.
But, he said, “No one should think that when we reach the 70% across the country, that we’re done. We are not done until we completely crush this outbreak.”
Vaccine hesitancy among key demographics has dogged that effort, as misinformation about vaccine safety has convinced some to avoid the potentially life-saving shot.
If vaccine-hesitant groups remain recalcitrant, Fauci warned, there will be regional spikes and outbreaks. But with so many Americans protected, he no longer expects the sort of devastating surges that have rocked the US in the last year and a half.
The director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, said Covid-19 vaccines “are nearly 100% effective against severe disease and death”.
“Nearly every death, especially among adults, due to Covid-19 is at this point entirely preventable,” she said.
The White House announcement comes after daily vaccination rates dropped from a high of more than 4.6m in April to about 500,000 in early June, NBC News reported. Even million-dollar lotteries have failed to sustainably drum up enthusiasm, leaving some pockets of the country vulnerable as society reopens.
But the vaccination campaign has still outperformed early hopes, officials said, and many Americans now have the long-anticipated opportunity to safely return to some semblance of normalcy.
“The most important metric at the end of the day is what are we able to do in our lives, how much of normal have we been able to recapture,” said Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general.
“I think that what we’re seeing now is that we have exceeded our expectations. Until everybody’s under that umbrella of protection, until everyone has their way of life back, we’re not gonna stop in our vaccination effort.”