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White House Says The U.S. Will Narrowly Miss Its Vaccination Goal

Jun 22, 2021
Originally published on June 23, 2021 10:27 pm

The country will narrowly miss President Biden's goal of having 70% of the U.S. adult population at least partially vaccinated by July 4, according to a White House official who did not want to get ahead of the public announcement.

But the official also noted that 70% of those 30 and older have already been vaccinated a week and a half ahead of Independence Day and that those 27 and older are expected to also reach the 70% mark by July 4.

Currently, 65% of the adult population has gotten at least one shot and 56% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At current rates, the U.S. is on track to get to about 67% people with at least one shot by July 4.

The coronavirus has been shown to affect older people worse, on average and 87% of those 65 and older have had at least one dose, while 77% are fully vaccinated.

Demand for vaccinations has slowed dramatically, leaving scientists to be concerned about the rise of the Delta variant and the potential for another moderate surge in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates.

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The president had also told Americans they could expect to have small backyard gatherings by the Fourth of July holiday. However, large gatherings are becoming common with the lower levels of virus and the level of vaccinations that have been achieved.

The White House is planning a gathering of more than 1,000 military and front-line workers on the White House lawn on the Fourth of July.

Vaccination and mask wearing have become polarizing topics. Surveys have found that Trump supporters are among the least likely to want to get vaccinated — and there is a sharp blue-red divide by states won by either Biden or Trump.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The White House acknowledged today that the U.S. will not meet President Biden's goal of 70% of U.S. adults getting at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by July 4. In fact, it's going to take an extra couple of weeks to get there. And we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. And Tamara, let's just start with the data. How close is the country to meeting this goal? How worried is the White House about all this?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, moving at the current pace, an NPR analysis finds that the U.S. should get to about 67% of adults with at least one shot by July 4. But rather than admit that in a straightforward way, the White House is doing some mathematical gymnastics today. Here's COVID coordinator Jeff Zients on a briefing call with reporters.

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JEFF ZIENTS: So as to our goal of 70% for all adults, we're going to hit it for adults 27 and older. This is amazing progress and has our country returning to normal much sooner than anyone could've predicted.

KEITH: White House officials have taken to calling that goal aspirational, even arguing that the 70% number was sort of arbitrary, like Jen Psaki, the press secretary, argued today in the briefing room.

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JEN PSAKI: There was nothing ever magical through science about 70%. Seventy percent was a bold, ambitious goal we set to continue to drive to get more people vaccinated across the country.

KEITH: The White House has from the start set goals that they could - where they could under promise and over deliver. But in this case, the pace of vaccinations just really slowed down after that initial rush of people who were eager to get vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who advises the White House, said that when the goal was set, it was seen as achievable. And ultimately, it will be achieved, just not by that deadline that the White House itself had set.

But as White House officials have emphasized, it was about more than just a number. It was about America being a place where people could return to normal and their pre-pandemic lives. And cases are down. Deaths are down. Baseball stadiums are full. You know, by the metric of life returning to normal, America is largely there.

CORNISH: So for some context, what are...

KEITH: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Some of the reasons why they missed this 70% target?

KEITH: It's a demand issue. At this point, vaccines are readily available everywhere, but many people are still choosing not to get vaccinated. Some people fear the vaccine more than they fear the virus. The administration says this is particularly a challenge among 18- to 26-year-olds who just aren't as afraid of COVID and are therefore less motivated to get the vaccine. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says that vaccines are now available for everyone 12 and up. They have been proven to be wildly effective at preventing severe disease and death.

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ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Nearly every death due to COVID-19 is particularly tragic because nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19 is, at this point, entirely preventable.

KEITH: There's also a significant disparity among states in the Northeast. They have, you know, blown past the goal. And in several southern states and a couple of western ones, vaccine rates are still quite low, around 50% or less.

CORNISH: What does it mean in the areas of the country where there are these low vaccination rates?

KEITH: Well, it means that there are pockets of risk, pockets where there could be virus surges, especially with this new Delta variant, which is rapidly taking hold. It's much more contagious and, potentially, more dangerous. But Dr. Fauci says he doesn't think the U.S. is going to get to a place like we were before, where there were a thousand people a day dying. He says we're unlikely to see another frightening peak like we did in January, but there could be locally significant outbreaks.

CORNISH: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.