WASHINGTON — The White House will compel state, local, and tribal governments to make all American adults eligible to sign up for Covid-19 vaccines no later than May 1, President Biden said on Thursday.
The Biden administration has previously issued non-binding directions or recommendations on Covid-19 mitigation measures like mask use or school reopenings. But the aides stressed that, using the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, its vaccine order will be binding, and states’ compliance will be mandatory.
The goal, Biden aides told reporters on a conference call, is to allow Americans to gather in relative normalcy by July 4.
“Because of all the work we’ve done, we will have enough vaccine for all adults in America by the end of May,” Biden said. “That’s months ahead of schedule, and we are mobilizing thousands of vaccinators to put the vaccine in one’s arm.”
The announcement marks the Biden administration’s most aggressive pledge yet on vaccine availability. Upon his inauguration on Jan. 20, Biden pledged the country would administer 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office — a mark the country is set to pass within weeks, well in advance of the deadline. Biden said last week that there would be enough vaccines for all American adults seeking them by May, though he stopped short of pledging that all those seeking vaccines would be eligible to receive them.
The U.S. is currently administering over 2 million vaccines per day, and manufacturing scale-ups from the manufacturers of the three currently authorized for use — two-dose regimens made by Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership, and a one-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson — mean that number will likely grow in the coming weeks and months.
Biden pledged, moving forward, that the U.S. will maintain its pace of at least 2 million vaccines per day, stressing that the country is easily on track to pass his initial 1-million-per day goal. (In fact, the country was administering nearly 1 million vaccines per day even before Biden’s inauguration.)
“When I came into office, you may recall, I set a goal that many of you said was, kind of, way over the top,” Biden said. “I said I intended to get 100 million shots in arms in my first 100 days in office. Tonight, I can say we’re not only going to meet that goal — we’re going to beat that goal.”
The announcement came just hours before Biden was set to make a primetime address marking the anniversary of widespread coronavirus-related shutdowns in 2020.
During the press call, Biden aides also outlined a broader acceleration of the vaccination effort. The government will double the number of retail pharmacies participating in the vaccine rollout, meaning 20,000 commercial sites will offer Covid-19 immunizations.
It will also double the number of federally backed mass vaccination centers, and deploy an additional 4,000 active-duty military personnel to assist in the vaccine effort, bringing the total number of troops involved to 6,000.
The administration will also attempt to expand the pool of professionals who can give vaccines to include paramedics, physician assistants, veterinarians, and dentists, and medical students, including some training for non-physician positions.
HHS will also launch a new website to help Americans find available vaccines, the aides said.
Much of Biden’s address is set to focus on the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that Biden signed into law on Thursday. The administration said it would use $50 billion from that bill to invest in a testing effort aimed at helping schools quickly reopen.
Separately, the administration will direct funds toward scaling up screening tests in congregate settings like homeless shelters and prisons, and fund a new ramping-up of at-home tests that individual Americans could use outside a medical setting.
On the call, Biden officials also announced they would use an additional $1.7 billion in the relief bill to expand genomic sequencing infrastructure used to detect coronavirus variants that are potentially more transmissible, or less deterred by existing vaccines.