Biden opens up eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, as infections surge in some states

By: - April 6, 2021 4:55 pm

A basket of syringes containing COVID-19 vaccine ready to be used at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Feb. 2, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — Every adult in the U.S. will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, President Joe Biden said Tuesday, praising governors for lifting restrictions on vaccine eligibility earlier than his original May 1 deadline.

But his remarks also came as states such as Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania reported worrisome COVID-19 trends. Michigan has seen the sharpest rise nationally in COVID-19 infections, and is averaging 6,720 cases per day. The state also accounts for the second-highest number of cases linked to the more contagious variant of the virus.

Speaking from the White House after visiting a vaccination site in Virginia, Biden credited the officials administering the country’s largely state-run vaccination programs, saying their hard work means that more Americans will be eligible for a shot sooner.

“No more confusing rules. No more confusing restrictions,” Biden said. “Many states have already opened up to all adults. But beginning April 19, every adult in every state, every adult in this country, is eligible to get in line to get a COVID vaccination.”

That date is two weeks sooner than Biden initially directed states to end limits on vaccine appointments based on age, health conditions, employment or other factors. Iowa opened vaccines to all residents age 16 and over on April 5.

Nearly every state already has either removed restrictions on who can get vaccinated or set a date for doing so ahead of May 1: All but Hawaii have announced an earlier deadline, according to the New York Times.

But as the president heralded the strides made in vaccinating Americans against the deadly virus, Biden also urged patience. Whether the country can commit to continuing to take safety precautions until more people are vaccinated will determine “how much death, disease and misery are we going to see,” he said.

“The virus is spreading because we have too many people who, seeing the end in sight, think we’re at the finish line already,” Biden said, adding: “We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life-or-death race with this virus.”

Biden had set the May 1 deadline for lifting eligibility restrictions a month ago, and based on the pace of states opening up eligibility, he said last week that by April 19, 90% of adults would be eligible for a shot and would be able to get one within five miles of their home.

On Tuesday, he said that by the end of May, the “vast majority” of adults will have gotten at least their first shot.

Touting the country’s progress in accelerating the number of COVID-19 shots going into arms, Biden said his administration has administered 150 million doses of the three federally authorized COVID-19 vaccines, a benchmark that he says puts it on pace to hit the goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office.

With a growing supply of vaccine doses available to states, pharmacies and federally run mass-vaccination sites, the U.S. is now averaging more than 3 million shots per day.

More than 167 million doses of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines have been administered so far overall, with 32% of the U.S. population having received at least one dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 80% of pre-K through 12th-grade teachers, school staff, and child care workers received at least their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, the CDC also announced Tuesday. Biden previously urged states to ensure any educator who wants one could receive at least a first dose during the month of March.

But the vaccination drive has been racing to outpace another rise in the daily rate of coronavirus infections. After falling to an average daily rate of 40,000 new cases in mid-March, that number has been going up again, with the seven-day trend of new cases at 63,000 daily on Sunday.

Five states — Michigan, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — accounted for 44% of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections in the latest seven-day period, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Federal health officials have urged Americans to continue taking safety precautions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, amid concerns about how new variants of the virus have spread across the country.

At the same time, states have been allowing businesses and social gatherings to open up. As professional sports teams and entertainment venues navigate a return to larger crowds, private-sector groups have been working to craft so-called “vaccine passports” — digital apps that allow individuals to prove they’ve been vaccinated.

The concept has drawn criticism on a number of fronts, including over whether Americans could be required to download an app and to receive a vaccination, and how such a passport could affect those who are unable to get a vaccine or those without a smartphone

Earlier on Tuesday, White House officials gave the clearest indication that the Biden administration will not be creating a federally authorized vaccine passport and that any such effort would come from private businesses.

“The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Iowa Capital Dispatch. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

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