President Joe Biden will direct all states to make every adult in the country eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine no later than May 1, he told the nation during his first prime-time White House address on Thursday evening.
The decision will put the nation on a path to get “closer to normal” by July 4 and allow families and friends to gather in small groups for Independence Day, a significant milestone a year into a pandemic that has killed more than 530,000 in the U.S.
“If we do our part, if we do this together, by July 4 there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout on a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” the president said.
Biden will use his authority via the Department of Health and Human Services to direct states to open their eligibility criteria, which in many states has largely been restricted to older Americans, essential workers and people with serious medical conditions. He called on citizens to get their vaccines as soon as possible and continue to abide by social distancing measures and wear masks as the pandemic continues.
“I promise I will do everything in my power, I will not relent until we beat this virus, but I need you, the American people,” Biden said. “I need every American to do their part. … I need you to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and when you can find an opportunity, and to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well.”
The timeline won’t mean every American can immediately get vaccinated, but the president repeated his pledges that the nation will have enough vaccine supply by the end of May to inoculate every adult in the country.
A senior administration official stressed early Thursday that the abbreviated timeline was the result of a dramatic uptick in the pace of vaccinations against COVID-19 nationwide.
More than 98 million doses have now been administered in the U.S., and more than 64 million people have received at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixty-five percent of people over the age of 65 have now received at least one shot.
The country is now averaging more than 2.2 million jabs per day, and that figure is climbing.
The Biden administration will move to dramatically expand where Americans can get vaccinated in the coming weeks. Shots will eventually be available at 20,000 pharmacies nationwide and the number of federally run mass vaccination centers will double under Biden’s directives.
The number of vaccinators will also increase after the president expands who is eligible to give the shots to include dentists, paramedics, physicians and veterinarians, among other professionals. The president will also deploy 4,000 additional active-duty troops to help with those efforts, expanding the number to 6,000 in total.
More than 530,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and while infection rates and the daily death toll have fallen significantly since a peak earlier this year, they remain high.
“While it was different for everyone, we all lost something,” Biden said. “A year filled with a loss of life and a loss of living for all of us. But in the loss, we saw how much there was to gain in appreciation, respect and gratitude. Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do.”
The president’s address came just hours after he signed a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package into law on Thursday, a gargantuan relief effort that will send thousands of dollars to most low- and middle-income American families. The measure includes $1,400 direct payments to most taxpayers, a $300 weekly extension in unemployment benefits for the next six months and a large increase in child tax credits, among other provisions.
The package also shuttles billions of dollars to state and local governments to provide ongoing pandemic relief and dramatically lower payments for millions who get their health care through the Affordable Care Act.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation — working people, middle-class folks, the people who build the country — a fighting chance,” Biden said earlier Thursday.
During his address that night, the president expressed optimism that the country was on the cusp of overcoming “one of the darkest and toughest periods in this nation’s history.”
“There is hope and light of better days ahead,” he said. “If we all do our part, this country will be vaccinated soon. Our economy will be on the mend. Our kids will be back in school. We’ll have proven, once again, that this country can do anything.”
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