Biden says 90 percent of adults will be COVID-19 vaccine eligible by April 19

Federal pharmacy program, mass vaccination sites continue to expand

President Joe Biden delivers remarks Monday at the White House on COVID-19 response and vaccinations. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks Monday at the White House on COVID-19 response and vaccinations. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted March 29, 2021 at 3:40pm

By April 19, at least 90 percent of U.S. adults will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, President Joe Biden announced Monday.

Biden had previously announced that he wanted to have all adult Americans eligible to receive vaccines no later than the beginning of May, but many states are moving ahead more quickly whether or not sufficient supply has yet materialized.

“The vast majority of governors have set open access dates even earlier than the deadline of May 1. But in this race against the rapidly spreading virus, as fast as we are going, we need to go faster,” the president said at the White House. “So to make it easier for Americans to get vaccinated as the supply grows [and] vaccination eligibility expands, I’m directing my COVID team to ensure there is a vaccine site within five miles of 90 percent of all Americans by April 19.”

Biden also made a plea to senior citizens, in particular, to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“Seniors, please, if you’ve not gotten your shot yet, get it this week,” he said.

The White House said in a fact sheet that the number of participating retail pharmacies in the Federal Retail Pharmacy program will more than double (to almost 40,000) and a dozen more federally backed mass vaccination sites will be developed.

The first two of those sites were announced earlier Monday by administration officials during a coronavirus response press briefing. Those will be in Gary, Ind., and St. Louis, Mo., with the locations of additional sites yet to be announced.

“Over 60 percent of the shots given at these sites goes to minority communities, because they’re in minority communities,” Biden said. “We have to reach out; they’re the ones most affected by the vaccine — by both the vaccine, but also by the pandemic. We’re also 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.”

On Friday, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official told reporters that Washington, D.C., despite having a diverse population with “a high social vulnerability” when it comes to COVID-19, did not qualify for a mass vaccination site because it isn’t part of a larger state.

The federal government’s decision-making over the distribution of vaccine doses beyond those allocated to states has been a balancing act between a desire to operate large-scale vaccination sites, where, as Biden noted Monday, people do not even need to leave their cars, and the ease of access afforded by having vaccines available at retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens as well as at large grocery stores and big-box retailers.

The upbeat news about vaccination supplies was tempered by comments earlier Monday from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.

During the thrice-weekly administration press briefing on COVID-19 response, Walensky said she was discarding her script in order to deliver a warning against premature travel and reopening.

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared,” she said, noting a recent increase in cases.

Biden cited Walensky’s remarks during his vaccination update Monday afternoon.

“Look, as I do my part to accelerate the vaccine distribution of vaccinations, I need the American people to do their part as well. Mask up, mask up. It’s a patriotic duty. It’s the only way we ever get back to normal,” he said.

“To cheer together in stadiums full of fans, to gather together on holidays again safely, to go to graduations and weddings,” the president added, likely aware that spring break, Passover and Easter are increasing public gatherings, the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament and Major League Baseball’s opening day are imminent, and graduations are around the corner in May.

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