Up to 90% of US adults will be eligible for a Covid-19 shot by 19 April, Joe Biden said on Monday as he announced a major expansion of the nation’s vaccination program.
Hours after Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of “impending doom” in the race against the resurgence of infections, the US president delivered the counter measure.
Talking from the White House after a briefing from his coronavirus team, Biden promised that 90% of US residents would be living within five miles of a vaccination site within three weeks.
“We’re going to send more aid to states to expand the opening of more community vaccination sites, more vaccines, more sites, more vaccinators, all designed to speed our critical work,” he said.
But, chiming with Walensky, he also warned: “We still are in a war with this deadly virus, and we’re bolstering our defense, but this war is far from won.”
Biden said the vaccination figures – 75% of Americans over 65 inoculated in his first 10 weeks in office, and the new target of 200m shots in his first 100 days – gave him optimism.
But he said the country was in danger of giving back “hard fought gains” if it let up on preventative measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.
“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate,” he said, adding that he thought states should also pause reopening efforts because of the recent rise in cases.
“Please, this is not politics. A failure to take this virus seriously is what got us into this mess in the first place,” Biden said.
His plea, however, is likely to fall on deaf ears in states such as Texas, where the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, controversially lifted the state’s mask mandate this month, and in Florida, where Ron DeSantis, a staunch ally of the former president Donald Trump, refuse to implement one in the first place, and has clashed with the White House over vaccination policy.
The president also had harsh words for those openly defying Covid-19 precautions, such as young spring breakers who caused chaos in Miami Beach this month.
“We’re in a life and death race with a virus that is spreading quickly, with cases rising again, new variants are spreading, and sadly some of the reckless behavior we’ve seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead,” he said.
“These people are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing. Cases have fallen two thirds since I took office … now cases are going back up. In some states deaths are as well. We’re giving back our hard fought, hard won gains.”
With 90% of Americans now eligible to receive the vaccine by 19 April, Biden noted the final 10% would be included by 1 May, as he previously announced.