President Joe Biden has announced that all adults will become eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine by April 19. The news came as confirmed coronavirus infections continue to rise throughout the US, intensifying pressure to quickly increase the number of vaccinated people to help counter the rise of more infectious coronavirus variants.
“Let me be deadly earnest with you,” Biden said Tuesday at the White House. “We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life-and-death race against this virus.”
The new pledge marks a change in Biden’s previous goal to ensure that vaccinations would be available for 90 percent of US adults by April 19, and it’s possible to achieve given the recent increase in vaccinations across the country.
According to CDC figures, more than 108 million Americans — including about 40 percent of all adults and 75 percent of seniors (65 and up) — had received at least one dose as of Tuesday morning. Nearly 63 million people are fully vaccinated. Overall, the country’s vaccination rate is almost five times greater than the world average, according to a CNN analysis, with over 3 million Americans receiving Covid-19 shots every day.
This rate positions the country to meet the administration’s goal of getting 200 million shots in arms by April 30, Biden’s 100th day in office. When the president announced that goal on March 25, 100 million shots had been given in less than two months. If doctors and nurses continue to administer at least 2.5 million shots per day — the seven-day average in late March — the administration would reach its 200-million-shot goal with days to spare.
The president’s pledge to open vaccinations to all adults is largely a symbolic one. All but one state, Hawaii, had already pledged to make vaccines available for all residents 18 and up either on or in advance of the new April 19 deadline. Most recently, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday morning that her state’s timeline would be moved up in accordance with the president’s.
But the announcement ensures that every state is held to the same vaccination rules as access opens up. And getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible is of growing importance: Covid-19 rates are rising in some parts of the country, particularly in the upper Midwest, and experts continue to warn of a new surge of Covid-19 infections fueled by the spread of variants and loosened restrictions in some states.
The US is facing an uptick in confirmed Covid-19 cases
While increased vaccination rates and eligibility is undisputedly good news, both developments coincide with an uptick in Covid-19 cases that experts worry may soon turn into a fourth wave. On March 14, the country reported a weekly average of less than 53,000 cases per day. That number reached 76,594 cases on April 5, a 20 percent increase from 14 days prior. Deaths are down and hospitalizations remain stagnant, though those numbers typically lag case counts for several weeks before they reflect those increases.
The uptick is believed to be fueled in part by the continued spread of variants that are often more infectious, and sometimes more deadly, than the initial strain of the coronavirus. And part of what drives the national vaccine effort is a race to inoculate the country before additional new variants emerge. Experts are particularly worried about the rise of potential variants with an Eek mutation, which allows a virus to better evade immune responses from vaccines.
According to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, variants have been found in every US state, although none have had the Eek mutation. Osterholm said on Sunday’s Meet the Press that the B.1.1.7 variant, one believed to be more infectious and deadly and thought to have originated in the United Kingdom, “is almost like having a whole new pandemic descend upon us.” The good news: Vaccines seem to stop its spread.
At the moment, scientists don’t know how widely the new variants are circulating. But as the weeks pass, they’ll likely constitute a higher share of US Covid-19 cases — and a key concern with the B.1.1.7 variant, according to Osterholm, is its impact on children.
“Unlike the previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under eighth grade get infected often, or they were not frequently very ill,” Osterholm said on Meet the Press. “They didn’t transmit to the rest of the community. That’s why I was one of those people very strongly supporting reopening in-class learning. B.1.1.7 turns that on its head.”
However, Anthony Fauci — the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser — has said the threat these variants pose, and the threat of a new wave of cases, can be minimized so long as vaccination rates continue to grow unabated.
“As long as we keep vaccinating people efficiently and effectively, I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Fauci said on MSNBC on Tuesday. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to still see increases in cases. Whether it explodes into a real surge or not remains to be seen. I think that the vaccine is going to prevent that from happening.”