WASHINGTON – In what has become something of a pattern, President Biden announced Tuesday that he has exceeded his own relatively modest pandemic-related promise, in this case that all American adults would be eligible to receive a vaccine against the coronavirus before May 1.
Speaking from the White House, the president said states must achieve full eligibility by April 19. By that date, he said, “all adults in all states, all adults in this country, are eligible to stand in line to get a COVID Vaccine.” He had previously said that 90 percent of Americans would be eligible for the April 19, and the final 10 percent would be eligible on May 1.
Hours earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the revised 100 percent eligibility goal for April 19 was “to bring clarity to the American public.” Of course, the White House could have provided that more optimistic schedule from the start, but doing so would have deprived the administration of another opportunity to brag about having exceeded its self-imposed deadlines.
The wording of Tuesday’s pledge also underscored a complex reality: Being eligible for a vaccine is not the same as receiving one.
In fact, the wait for a vaccine could increase as increased eligibility leads to increased demand. The Biden administration recently opened mass vaccination sites while expanding a federal program that will allow 40,000 pharmacies nationwide to administer vaccines. Those measures could help meet any increased demand starting April 19.
Tuesday’s announcement was largely absent from substantial policy changes, though it is likely to force states to move faster in their levels of who is eligible to receive a vaccine. That’s because when it comes to influencing the way a state administers its vaccines, the president’s only real power is his office pulpit of intimidation.
And even without Biden’s push, states have recently been expanding vaccines of their own free will, with 36 now offering vaccines to anyone 16 and older. Many have dispensed with complex formulas to address racial equity in favor of a simpler age-based approach.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain acknowledged the confusing vaccination guidelines in a Twitter message Tuesday. “All 50 states. Every adult. No more priorities or rules to check on the Internet. ” Klain wrote. “ANY ADULT can be vaccinated in ANY STATE as of April 19.”
During a separate event earlier Tuesday, Biden said that soon “everyone over the age of 18” could “self-present” and receive a vaccination, without having to register beforehand. That would mark a sea change from the way vaccines have been distributed so far.
The president also announced that 150 million people had been vaccinated in the United States, meaning that the goal of 200 million inoculations by his 100th day in office was relatively easy to achieve.
The White House has used regular “updates” on the coronavirus to promote its own achievements, which have included increasing vaccine production through the use of the Defense Production Act and providing vaccination-related assistance to states and localities through of the American Rescue Plan, the president’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package.
For the most part, such updates are intended to remind the American public that Biden is in firm control of a difficult situation, one that routinely plagued his predecessor. Biden has received much higher poll numbers for his handling of the virus.
The president now has to deal with an increasingly restless population and, on the other hand, with more communicable strains of the coronavirus that seem to be making the very young sick in some parts of the country.
Raising the vaccine eligibility deadline was a way of signaling that the end is near, if not exactly here. “We are still in a life and death race against this virus,” Biden said, even as he promised that “better times are ahead.”
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