After several days in which Dr. Anthony Fauci’s just-released emails painted a picture of foreboding at the beginning of the crisis last year, President Joe Biden conjured up the prospect of a Covid-free future at the White House.
“Get a shot and have a beer. Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus,” he said.
And Vice President Kamala Harris is adding to her growing portfolio of intractable issues, which includes voting rights and stemming the stream of humanity approaching the US southern border, by launching a national vaccine tour.
The raft of incentives builds on the success of states like Ohio that saw vaccine rates improve when they adopted strategies like million-dollar lotteries for those that had their injections.
Officials always knew that the country would reach a point where the supply of once-scarce shots would outstrip the demand. The fact that so many people are now at least partially protected, and the virus has by consequence ebbed, may mean that latecomers see less need to get inoculated.
“Because we have had so much success early on, we are now getting to the part of the campaign which is tougher,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” on Wednesday.
The new White House vaccine push reflected important public health, economic and political considerations. The fear of new human misery later in the year, after nearly 600,000 US deaths from Covid-19, is a powerful motivating factor. The return of the virus with a vengeance in some regions could also hamper the economic rebound, which has been halting in places amid complications in getting millions of Americans back to work. Making good on new government predictions of 5% economic growth this year is vital to Biden in a political sense, as well. The President has made ending the pandemic the core project of his administration and hopes to ride into midterm elections next year by telling Americans that he has delivered.
Some 136 million Americans are fully vaccinated. But the percentage of US adults who have had at least one dose is at 62.8%, meaning that Biden’s target of 70% before Independence Day could represent a challenge.
The President promised Americans a golden summer on Wednesday as the country reopens at a rapid pace and the economic recovery accelerates. But he leavened his cheerleading with a stark warning of a possible grim winter — unless more citizens overcome their unwillingness to get vaccines.
“America is headed into the summer dramatically different from last year’s summer: A summer of freedom, a summer of joy, a summer of get-togethers and celebrations. An all-American summer that this country deserves,” he said.
But the President added: “What happens after the summer? … For all the progress we’re making as a country, if you are unvaccinated, you are still at risk of getting seriously ill or dying or spreading disease to others, especially when Americans spend more time indoors again closely gathered in the fall, and as we face the potential threat of a new, more dangerous variants.”
The President’s warning raises a prospect that has been troubling health professionals: that there could be hot spots of infection in the winter, especially in areas of the country where vaccine take-up has been low.
In some scenarios, this could mean America’s deep divides being sketched in a pattern of higher Covid-19 infections. Data shows a tendency for residents of more politically conservative states and counties to be more skeptical of vaccines, often in a way that mirrors the laxer adherence to coronavirus mitigation measures.
Former President Donald Trump won all but seven of the 50 counties with the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated adults in the country in the last election, according to a CNN Politics analysis of May 20 data from the CDC. The analysis does not include data from nine states (Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia) where less than 85% of the vaccination records had valid information about a person’s county of residence or the CDC otherwise had incomplete data.
With that in mind, it was notable that Biden argued that getting a shot was not a partisan act.
“The science was done under Democratic and Republican administrations. Matter of fact, the first vaccines were authorized under a Republican President and widely developed by a Democratic President,” he said.
Still, it remains unclear how effective Biden can be in addressing grassroots Trump supporters, many of whom do not believe he is a legitimate President thanks to his predecessor’s campaign of lies about a stolen election. That’s one reasons why the prospect of using Trump as a messenger keeps bubbling up. The former President, however, doesn’t seem to have much interest in public service announcements, other than claiming the vaccines as a personal achievement that saved the country. In fact, he took his own shot behind closed doors before leaving the White House.
There are multiple reasons beyond politics, for example, why people may choose not to get a vaccine. There is mistrust of government scientists and experts in some communities. Some African Americans are suspicious of mass vaccination campaigns for historical reasons. Some rural areas that have not seen heavy concentrations of the virus and where people live further apart than in cities may see vaccines as less of a priority. Young people, who are less likely to get seriously ill or die but who can still have long-lasting effects from Covid-19, are a particular concern for health officials.
Despite public information campaigns, confusion remains among some Americans over whether they are eligible to get the shots. Relentless misinformation and politicization by some conservative media outlets hardly help in this regard.
Dr. Seema Yasmin, a former CDC disease detective, said on CNN’s “Inside Politics” on Wednesday that the month of action on vaccines was important because it was targeting different communities in different ways.
“One of the things that annoys me about public health is when we have a one-size-fits-all message for everyone: ‘Just go get vaccinated, it’s safe,’ ” Yasmin said.
“In reality, you speak to six people on the fence about vaccines … you can hear six very different reasons — historical, geographical, cultural, faith-based reasons — as to why they may not be very confident about getting vaccinated.”
That is why government officials are now stressing almost a one-by-one approach to getting sufficient Americans vaccinated in order to beat back the virus.
“This is not just about what government can do. It’s about what each of us can do. It’s about you making the decision to get vaccinated and about you talking to your family and friends,” Murthy told Tapper.
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