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Biden marks 200m Covid vaccine shots delivered, but warns Americans to stay vigilant

Oliver O'Connell
·6-min read
New Yorkers arrive at the Javits Center Covid-19 vaccination center on 13 April 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)
New Yorkers arrive at the Javits Center Covid-19 vaccination center on 13 April 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden has announced that the US has hit its target of 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses delivered, eight days ahead of the schedule he set of his 100th day in office.

“Today, we did it. Today we hit 200 million shots,” the president said, hailing it as an “incredible achievement for the nation”. He added: “This is an American achievement. A powerful demonstration of unity and resolve.”

Noting that by Thursday more than 80 per cent of those over the age of 65 will have received at least one dose (and two-thirds are fully vaccinated), Mr Biden spoke of the country entering a new phase in its vaccination efforts.

“We still have some work to do with our target groups,” he said, but “we have made remarkable progress.”

“The time is now to open up a new phase of this historic vaccination effort. To put it simply, if you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer,” the president said announcing that vaccinations were now open to everyone over the age of 16.

As part of the push to encourage people to get their shots, Mr Biden also announced a new paid leave tax credit, through the American Rescue Plan, to help employers offer paid time off for vaccinations and for those who suffer side effects from the shot.

While Mr Biden was delivering good news, he also warned that there was still a lot of work to do before anything like normal life could fully resume.

“Back on March 11, I outlined a vision of what America could look like by the 4th of July. An America that was much closer to normal life that we left behind a year ago. We remain on track for that goal ... [but if we] stop being vigilant, this virus will erase the progress.”

The president also urged anyone thinking of not getting the vaccine to think again, to first stop themselves potentially getting critically ill, and second to prevent spreading the illness to those around them, especially the vulnerable.

With millions of Americans receiving doses of Covid-19 vaccines daily and states continuing to ease restrictions on social and economic activity, you would be forgiven for thinking that the coronavirus pandemic is already a thing of the past in the US.

While there has been impressive progress in dealing with the winter surge in cases, it appears to have stalled with new Covid infections remaining stubbornly high, and hospitalisations even increasing over the past two weeks.

So, what is going on?

An impressive 51.5 per cent of American adults have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, 34 per cent are fully vaccinated, and the pace of distribution is increasing. An increasing number of states are offering walk-in appointments to more vulnerable groups to ensure they are covered.

Relaxed restrictions, both for the vaccinated and for the general population are now coming into effect. As of the beginning of April, fully vaccinated people are now permitted to travel domestically without testing, (provided their destination does not require one), though masks and other precautions remain.

Even in cities that enforced some of the harsher restrictions, such as New York, reduced capacity indoor dining, arts, and sporting events are back, shops are open, and footfall has dramatically increased.

The complication is that combined, the fast-paced vaccine rollout and drive to reopen the economy have created a false perception that the pandemic is almost over.

People are letting their guard down and taking a more relaxed approach to simple precautions such as wearing a face mask, basic social distancing, and not gathering in large groups.

In states known for taking a more lax approach, such as Florida and Texas, images of packed bars and nightclubs have raised concerns among health officials.

Younger people, most of whom are yet to be vaccinated, appear to be driving new cases of the virus and more contagious variants are fuelling the surge. It is this that Mr Biden wanted to draw attention to in his remarks.

On 20 April, the seven-day moving average of new cases stood at 64,000 per day, an increase of more than 12,000 from the previous low in mid-March since when progress on tamping down infections appears to have stalled.

For context, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta shows the rolling average peak for new infections for the whole of the pandemic was 11 January at 250,000 in a single day.

The number of new cases per day is also currently 50 per cent higher than when the virus first spread in initial hot spots such as New York City just over a year ago. It is approximately the same level as when Covid surged across large parts of the country in the summer of 2020.

Hospitalisations have risen over the month of April, with the seven-day rolling average of the number of patients with confirmed Covid-19 now standing at approximately 38,000, up more than 4,000 from the end of March.

Deaths per day, which lag behind cases and hospitalisations, continue to trend down but did see a small increase beginning about a week ago. The seven-day moving average stood at 692 on 18 April. At its peak over the winter, it was just under 3,500 deaths per day.

Mapped out by average daily cases per 100,000 people by county, there are alarming surges in new cases across the whole of Michigan; Minnesota; northern Texas; and eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

There are smaller hot spots in eastern Oregon; Augusta, Maine; Nashville, Tennessee; Peoria, Illinois; and south Florida, centred on Miami.

Officially, the CDC has described the US as being at a “complicated stage” in the pandemic, and director Rochelle Walensky has pleaded with people to “hold on a little while longer” while vaccinations proceed.

Indeed, the president’s remarks, and the rollout of paid time off work to get vaccinated, might be well-timed.

A new report published on Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation said that the US may soon reach a tipping point for its Covid vaccines, where supply far exceeds demand as health officials struggle to encourage unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.

“Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed,” according to the report.

In the 13 months since Covid-19 was first identified in the US, there have been 31.5 million confirmed cases and 564,292 officially recorded deaths.

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