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Joe Biden has announced a goal of ensuring 70% of American adults receive at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by Independence Day on 4 July.
The US president urged people in their 20s and 30s in particular to get inoculated and said his administration was “ready to move immediately” if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.
“Our goal by July 4th is to have 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “That means giving close to 100m shots – some first shots, others second shots – over the next 60 days.”
He added: “The light at the end of the tunnel is actually growing brighter and brighter.”
The president had previously announced 4 July as a target for when people can gather in small groups to signal a return to greater normality.
His latest remarks came as the administration faces a shift from a scarcity of vaccine supply to a scarcity of demand, with many people hesitant about the vaccine and so-called “herd immunity” still a distant prospect.
The US is administering first doses at a rate of about 965,000 a day – half the rate of three weeks ago. Some states have left more than half their government-allocated doses unordered.
Biden said: “Now that we have the vaccine supply, we’re focused on convincing even more Americans to show up and get the vaccine that is available to them. If we succeed in this effort … then Americans will have taken a serious step towards a return to normal.”
A senior administration official told reporters that 105m people were fully vaccinated and more than 56% of adults, or 147 million people, have received at least one dose.
Biden acknowledged: “There are a lot of younger people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, who believe they don’t need it. Well, I want to be absolutely clear: you do need to get vaccinated … Even if your chance of getting seriously ill is low, why take the risk?”
Officials are also preparing to administer vaccines to adolescents once they are approved by the FDA, which is reviewing the data. Biden said: “Today, I want American parents to know that if that announcement comes, we are ready to move immediately – immediately move to make about 20,000 pharmacy sites across the country ready to vaccinate those adolescents as soon as the FDA grants its OK.”
Biden said vaccines would also be sent to pediatricians, enabling parents and children to discuss the issue with family doctors. Young athletes in sports team would be able to get their first shot in one place and their second elsewhere. “My hope is that if the vaccine is authorised, parents will take advantage of it and get their kids vaccinated.”
Biden also announced a website, vaccines.gov, and a phone number, 438829, to which people can send their zip code to find out the vaccination site closest to them. This week the administration will direct pharmacies to provide walk-in hours and phase out mass vaccination sites in favour of smaller locations closer to unvaccinated people, including in rural areas. “Now we’re going to have to bring the vaccine to people who are less eager,” Biden said.
Surveys have found a partisan split, with people in districts that voted for Donald Trump more reluctant to take the vaccine. Biden made a plea: “This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. The science behind vaccines has been under development for decades … While we may not always agree on everything, this is one thing people across the political spectrum can agree on.”
Questioned by reporters, Biden said he hoped that the coming public persuasion campaign would be easier than the massive logistical effort of vaccine distribution and administration in his first hundred days.
But he added: “We’re going to keep at it. At the end of the day, most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get a vaccine may cause other people to be sick and die.”
On a different note, Biden suggested that he would meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a trip next month to Europe. “That is my hope and expectation,” he said. “We’re working on it.”