WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for a renewed urgency to get more Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 as a variant of the virus is contributing to case surges in parts of the country.
"We can't get complacent now," Biden said. "You can do this. Let's finish the job."
In a brief speech at the White House, Biden said that his administration would shift focus from mass vaccination sites to a smaller, more community-based approach to try to reach those still holding out on getting the shots.
Biden said his new focus would be on getting vaccine supplies to local pharmacies, primary care doctors and pediatricians, along with a continued push for door-to-door vaccinations, mobile clinics and workplace vaccination events.
Biden said he was also mobilizing "Covid-19 surge response teams" — groups made up of experts from FEMA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other federal agencies — to help states with low vaccination rates "prevent, detect and respond" to the spread of the delta variant.
Areas with low vaccination rates have seen a recent increase in cases. The delta variant, which is more transmissible and has been linked to more severe illness in younger adults, accounted for a quarter of all new cases last week and is projected to be the dominant strain in the coming weeks in the United States, the CDC said last week.
Administration officials have said they are in a race against time to get as many Americans fully vaccinated before the delta variant, first identified in India, can take further hold. Researchers have found the available vaccines are effective against preventing severe illness and death from the new variant, but they are less effective in patients with just one dose of the vaccine.
While 67 percent of U.S. adults are at least partially vaccinated , 47 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated. And in some states, including Alabama and Mississippi, just around a third of the population is fully vaccinated.
In Missouri, where 39 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, cases have more than doubled in the past week, compared to a month ago, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The surge led to one hospital in Springfield, Missouri, to temporarily run out of ventilators and open a second intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients, Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Springfield tweeted over the weekend.
"Our fight against this virus is not over," Biden said Tuesday. "Right now as I speak to you, millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. And because of that, their communities are at risk, their friends are at risk, the people they care about are at risk."