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White House says it's likely to miss original July 4 vaccination target

The administration on Tuesday looked to reframe the debate, insisting it has “succeeded beyond our highest expectations” in returning the nation to a pre-pandemic normal.
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WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday that it will likely fall short of President Joe Biden’s goal of partially vaccinating 70 percent of American adults by Independence Day, but insisted that it has “succeeded beyond our highest expectations” in returning the nation to a pre-pandemic normal.

Jeffrey Zients, the head of the White House Covid-19 response team, said that the administration had hit its 70 percent vaccination target among Americans ages 30 and older, and is poised to reach that threshold for those 27 and older by the Fourth of July.

But it will take “a few extra weeks” to include all Americans 18 and older in that group, he acknowledged.

“The reality is, many younger Americans have felt like Covid-19 is not something that impacts them and have been less eager to get the shot,” he said.

Still, Zients and other administration officials said it was undeniable that Americans will be celebrating the Fourth of July holiday in a way that few could have thought possible when Biden took office five months ago.

“We always intended July Fourth as a moment to take stock and celebrate the progress we’ve made. But by no means was it an end point,” a senior administration official said. “What really matters is what the country feels like and what Americans are safely able to do. Restaurants and schools have been able to reopen. There will be celebrations that are very different than what we talked about even a few weeks ago.”

Biden set two public goals May 4: Seeing 70 percent of American adults receive at least one dose of the vaccination in two months, and seeing 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by then. Zients acknowledged the United States won’t reach that second goal until “no later than-mid July.”

When the president set those targets, he called it a “huge goal.”

“If we succeed in this effort, as we did with the last, then Americans will have taken a serious step towards a return to normal,” he said.

By then, daily vaccination rates had already begun to fall sharply from a peak of more than 4.6 million April 10, bottoming out at just over 500,000 at the start of June. Through Sunday, 150 million Americans had been fully vaccinated, with 65.4 percent of adults having received at least a single dose.

Since the administration launched a “Month of Action” in June, the rolling seven-day average of daily vaccinations has ticked up somewhat — though not enough to guarantee the administration will meet Biden’s initial target.

The official, citing lags in reporting data especially around weekends and holidays, said the White House will still come remarkably close to reaching the president’s goal, even if it’s not clear until days after. The official denied that the administration was moving the goal posts by highlighting the 70 percent benchmark among a slightly narrower range of adults.

“I think for us, it’s less about the number and more about, does America look like America again? Have we protected some of our most vulnerable?” the official said. “Not only is the answer yes, but we’ve done it much faster than we anticipated.”

The 70 percent goal wasn’t the first Fourth of July benchmark Biden set. In a prime-time address in March, he set a more modest goal — that if Americans continued to follow safety protocols and ultimately got vaccinated, it was likely they could host modest gatherings by the holiday. “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together,” he said.

Now, though, the White House is planning to host a major Independence Day celebration at the White House, welcoming 1,000 members of the armed forces and front-line workers.

“We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program. And as a result, we have successfully executed the most complex, logistical task in history — administering 300 million shots in 150 days,” Zients said Tuesday.

As it has pursued a range of strategies to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, the administration says it has continued to refine its strategy for reaching particularly that younger cohort between the ages of 18 and 27. In addition to one-on-one conversations and incentive programs, the administration has begun to increasingly warn of the risk of contracting the more contagious and potentially deadlier delta variant in pushing Americans to get their shot.

“The new variant will leave unvaccinated people even more vulnerable than they are a month ago,” Biden warned Friday as he touted 300 million vaccination doses administered since he took office. “But the good news is, we have the solution. The science and the data are clear: The best way to protect yourself against these variants are to get fully vaccinated.”

Zients reiterated that the administration will continue its aggressive vaccination push well beyond July Fourth. Biden is traveling to North Carolina on Thursday for a vaccination-focused event, while first lady Jill Biden on Tuesday travels to Jackson, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee, where she'll stop at a pop-up vaccination site at a distillery with country music star Brad Paisley.

“With the Delta variant now spreading across the country and infecting younger people worldwide, it is more important than ever that they take this important step,” Zients said.