(AP) — For months, President Joe Biden
has set goal after goal for containing the coronavirus pandemic
, only to see them exceeded. Now, however, the United States
is on track to fall short of his target of having 70% of Americans vaccinated at least partially by July 4.
The White House has launched a month-long blitz to combat vaccine hesitancy and a lack of urgency to get shots, particularly in the South and Midwest, but it is increasingly resigned to falling short of the president's vaccination target. The administration insists that even if the goal is not met, it will have little impact on the overall U.S. recovery, which is already ahead of where Biden predicted it would be.
For Biden to meet his goal, at least 16 million unvaccinated adults must receive at least one dose in the next four weeks. However, the rate of new vaccinations
in the United States has dropped to around 400,000 people
per day, down from nearly 2 million per day two months ago.
Dr. Anthony Fauci
, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that he still hopes the target will be met, and that "if we don't, we'll keep pushing."
So far, 14 states have achieved 70% coverage among adults, with about a dozen more on track to do so by July 4. However, the disparity between states is stark.
Fauci stated that the administration is “pleading” with states, particularly those with low vaccination rates, to increase their efforts in the coming months, though some of the states lagging behind aren’t feeling the same urgency.
On a conference call Tuesday, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients called on governors to join the administration in “pulling out all the stops” on vaccinations this month, saying, “We need your leadership on the ground – which is where it matters the most – more than ever.”
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi
, which lags behind the rest of the country with only about 34% of its population immunized, has called Biden's goal "arbitrary, to say the least."
The state's vaccination rate has fallen so precipitously that reaching the 70% target will take the better part of a year.
In an interview
on Sunday, Reeves said that while he encouraged residents to get vaccinated, the decline in cases in the state was a more important indicator.
That sentiment makes winning over people like University of Mississippi student Mary Crane all the more important to Biden meeting his goal. She hasn't felt much urgency to get the COVID-19 vaccine
because she's already had the virus, and the family she's staying with over the summer break has been vaccinated.
“Initially, it was to wait for everyone else to get it and not take a vaccine,” she explained, explaining why she hasn't been vaccinated. “But now that it's available, there's really no reason I haven't gotten it, other than I just haven't gotten it.”
Crane, 20, said she's seen classmates who were eager to get the vaccine right away — there was a trend when the vaccine first became available of posting vaccination cards on social media
sites like Instagram
— but now that the vaccine has been available for a few months, Crane said she sees fewer young people talking about it.
“Everything is almost back to normal now,” she stated.
On Tuesday, Fauci emphasized the importance of increased vaccination in combating potentially dangerous variants, such as the so-called "Delta variant," which was first identified in India
and is now the dominant strain in the United Kingdom
and is spreading in the United States. Vaccines
have proven less effective against that variant when people are not fully immunized, and evidence suggests it is more transient.
The White House has worked to encourage a variety of incentives for people to get shots, from paid time off
to the chance to win a million dollars, and it has partnered with community groups, businesses, and health
providers to make it easier than ever to get a shot. Those efforts have helped sustain some of the interest, but the trends point to Biden's mission.
, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine
established a lottery
with $1 million prizes for vaccinated adults and full-ride college scholarships for children
, launching a wave of similar incentive lotteries across the country.
DeWine's announcement of the state's Vax-a-Million program on May 12 had the desired effect, resulting in a 43% increase in state vaccination numbers over the previous week, but the effect was fleeting, with vaccinations falling again the following week.
For some, the possibility of winning $1 million is insufficient to overcome skepticism about the vaccine's necessity.
Joanna Lawrence of Bethel, Ohio, says the COVID-19 survivability rate is so high, and the experiences of people she knows who received the vaccine have been so negative, that she sees no reason to risk a shot for herself, despite having recovered from her own bout with the coronavirus in August.
“My life is not worth money
,” Lawrence, 51, who farms and works in commercial real estate
, said. “I can always get more money if I need to, but I cannot get another life.”
, White House press secretary
, declined to predict whether the goal would be met, but she did say the administration was using "every tool at our disposal to get there."
“Regardless of where we are on July 4th, we are not closing shop,” she said, adding that “on July 5th, we will continue to press for more people across the country to be vaccinated.”
Keila Moore, 41, and Willie Moore, 42, of Pearl, Mississippi, have disagreed on whether or not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Willie explained that he knew he wanted it because he has high blood pressure and other preexisting conditions and works on the front lines.
Willie, who was immunized in February, said, "As soon as I had the chance, I took it."
However, Keila, who has no preexisting conditions and works from home, has chosen not to be vaccinated so far.
She tested positive for the virus after her husband was vaccinated; she said it was a mild case, but it was still a scary experience. She says she's more open to getting the vaccine now, and is considering getting it this fall if reports of side effects remain minimal.
“I’m just weighing the options and the time frame,” she explained, adding, “I’m a little bit more confident in it now that time is passing and I’m not really seeing any side effects that are too concerning.”
Willingham contributed reporting from Jackson
, Mississippi, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins of the Associated Press
contributed from Columbus, Ohio.