White House admits: We won't get to 70% on vaccinations by July 4

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In fairness, this isn’t a failure of the Biden administration — at least, not directly. We have the vaccines. We have the logistics to deliver them. In fact, vaccinations are now available on demand throughout the US.

What we lack are the arms:

The Biden administration is likely to miss its goal of providing at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose to 70 percent of adults by July Fourth, a White House official confirmed on Tuesday.

The setback comes amid a weekslong drop in the nation’s vaccination rate and persistent difficulties in convincing younger Americans in particular to seek out the shot.

The Biden administration now estimates that it will hit the 70 percent threshold only for those aged 27 and up by July 4, a milestone that White House officials are expected to tout as a dramatic turnaround from the pace under the Trump administration. The vaccination rate also exceeds 70 percent for those age 30 and up.

The “dramatic turnaround” from the Trump administration is nonsense. The Trump administration had vaccines available for all of six weeks, and managed to achieve one million vaccinations a day even with highly limited supplies. In fact, the 7-day moving average on January 20 (1.028 million) was nearly 20% higher than the most recent on the CDC chart (June 16, 856,000).

Both administrations did an admirable job of getting the vaccines out to the market. Joe Biden had the blessings of abundant supply by March, and the 7-day daily vaccination average peaked on April 11 at 3.4 million. By the 15th, all states offered eligibility to all adults, and demand began dropping. With two brief exceptions, the daily vaccination average has declined steadily ever since, and is now at its lowest since mid-January.

Why? We vaccinated the elderly and the nursing-home populations. After that, those motivated and enthusiastic about vaccination followed suit. Now we’re working with a large population of Americans who are either indifferent or outright hostile to vaccination. This is hardly unexpected, and the most directly responsible for it are those choosing not to get vaccinated.

And here, the Biden administration can be criticized for not engaging better, as can the previous Donald Trump administration. The Biden White House has failed to make inroads among black Americans, which is its base; the Trump administration and Trump himself didn’t do much to sell vaccines to his base either. However, the Biden administration’s fumble on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did a lot of damage to the strategy of using a one-and-done vaccine for the squeamish and hard-to-reach recipients.

Plus, Biden has continued to put Anthony Fauci front and center of his messaging long after it became clear that Fauci antagonizes the people that the administration most needed to reach for its July 4 target. That’s nothing short of an own-goal.

How big of a disaster will missing this target be? It depends more on region than the US as a whole, but it would likely be limited in scope. For one thing, COVID-19 has a real seasonal aspect to it. Even without vaccines, the spread greatly diminished in the summer of 2020, as did hospitalizations and deaths. It didn’t start picking up until well into September, and really only began escalating in the mid-autumn. The real target to hit 70% vaccinations might be Labor Day, not Independence Day.

Besides, vaccinations don’t tell the whole story. People who have been exposed to COVID-19 generate immunity as well, and that appears to protect against the “delta” variant. With 87.3% of the seniors having one shot at 77% having full vaccination, the most vulnerable population is already fairly well protected. Counting teenagers, we have fully vaccinated 53% of the population. Between all of those immune populations, the variant won’t have much range in which to percolate, even if it might create some havoc with the limited number of people with no immunity.

The answer to that is, of course, that the non-immune should get vaccinated tout suite. They have every opportunity to do so. If they don’t, then the burden of that choice has to be on them, not the rest of the vaccinated/immune population. It’s tough to blame Joe Biden for any obstinacy on the part of those who refuse.