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WASHINGTON — In what has become something of a pattern, President Biden announced Tuesday that he has surpassed his own relatively modest pandemic-related promise, in this case that all American adults would be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine by May 1.
Speaking from the White House, the president said that states needed to achieve full eligibility by April 19. By that date, he said, “every adult in every state — every adult in this country — is eligible to get to the line to get a COVID vaccination.” He had previously said that 90 percent of Americans would be eligible by April 19, with the final 10 percent becoming eligible by May 1.
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the revised goal of 100 percent eligibility by April 19 was “providing clarity to the American public.” Of course, the White House could have provided that rosier timetable from the outset, but doing so would have deprived the administration of another opportunity to boast of beating its self-imposed deadlines.
The wording of Tuesday’s promise also underscored a complex reality: Becoming eligible for a vaccine is not the same as having one administered.
In fact, the wait for a vaccine could increase as expanded eligibility leads to increased demand. The Biden administration has recently opened mass vaccination sites while also expanding a federal program that will allow 40,000 pharmacies nationwide to administer shots. Those moves could help meet any increased demand come April 19.
To a large degree, Tuesday’s announcement was absent any substantive policy changes, though it is likely to compel states to move faster through their tiers of who is eligible to receive a vaccine. That’s because when it comes to influencing how a state administers its inoculations, the president’s sole real power is the bully pulpit of his office.
And even without prodding from Biden, states have recently been expanding vaccinations of their own accord, with 36 now offering inoculations to anyone 16 or older. Many have dispensed with complex formulas meant to address racial equity in favor of a more straightforward age-based approach.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain acknowledged the confusing vaccination guidelines in a Twitter message on Tuesday. “All 50 states. Every adult. No more priorities or rules to check on the internet,” Klain wrote. “ANY ADULT can get vaccinated in ANY STATE as of April 19.”
During a separate event earlier on Tuesday, Biden said that soon “everybody over the age of 18” would be “just automatically able to show up” and receive a vaccine, without having to register beforehand. That would mark a radical shift from how vaccines have been distributed thus far.
The president also announced that 150 million people had been vaccinated across the United States, meaning that the goal of 200 million inoculations by his 100th day in office was within relatively easy reach.
The White House has used regular “updates” on the coronavirus to tout its own achievements, which have included ramping up vaccine production through the use of the Defense Production Act and providing vaccination-related aid to states and localities through the American Rescue Plan, the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
For the most part, such updates are intended to remind the American public that Biden is in firm control of a difficult situation, one that routinely bedeviled his predecessor. Biden has received far higher poll numbers for his handling of the virus.
The president now has to contend with an increasingly restless population and, on the other hand, more transmissible strains of the coronavirus that appear to be sickening younger people in parts of the country.
Pushing up the vaccine eligibility deadline was one way to signal that the end is near, if not yet exactly here. “We’re still in a life-and-death race against this virus,” Biden said, even as he promised that “better times are ahead.”
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