President Biden announced new steps Tuesday intended to inoculate additional Americans as the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and his administration labors to persuade holdouts to get shots.
"Millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected," Biden said at the White House complex. "And because of that, their communities are at risk. Their friends are at risk. The people they care about are at risk."
Among the steps is a focus on supplying vaccines to primary care doctors to allow Americans to get vaccinated by their regular healthcare providers who, polls show, have the trust of their patients. The president emphasized that people also can get shots at local pharmacies — "when you're picking up your prescription, or just going in to get toothpaste" — and he said more mobile clinics would be deployed as part of stepped-up community outreach.
The administration is also pushing to inoculate more adolescents as the next school year approaches. The Pfizer vaccine has been given emergency-use authorization for youths as young as 12, but because it requires two shots, and then a two-week wait before it's fully effective, the schedule is tight to ensure students are inoculated before they return to classrooms.
Encouraging people to get vaccinated, Biden said: "It sounds corny, but it's a patriotic thing to do." That echoed his pitch Sunday at a Fourth of July celebration at the White House for essential workers and military families.
The spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, has increased the urgency of the vaccination campaign. In some areas of the United States, the variant makes up at least half of all current cases.
Biden said his administration would deploy "surge response teams" of emergency officials and health experts to stem outbreaks in communities with large proportions of unvaccinated people. Research shows that existing vaccines are effective against the Delta variant.
"It is ultimately up to individuals to decide if they are going to get vaccinated," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "If you are vaccinated, the vast, vast majority of people are safe from the virus. If you are not vaccinated, you are not."
Biden said that nearly 160 million Americans will be fully vaccinated by the end of the week. Although that makes the country's vaccination campaign among the most successful in the world, the administration has fallen slightly short of its target as officials confront hesitancy and other hurdles in getting people inoculated.
Sixty-two percent of American adults approve of how Biden has handled the pandemic, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend.
Vaccine hesitancy is much more prevalent among Republicans than Democrats. Only 6% of Democrats said they probably won't get vaccinated, while 47% of Republicans said the same.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.