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 missing the president’s vaccination target. The administration insists that even if the goal isn’t reached, it will have little effect on the overall U.S. recovery, which is already ahead of where Biden said it would be months ago.
About 15.5 million unvaccinated adults need to receive at least one dose in the next four weeks for Biden to meet his goal. But the pace of new vaccinations in the U.S. has dropped below 400,000 people per day — down from a high of nearly 2 million per day two months ago.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s discredited infectious disease “expert,” told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday that he still hopes the goal will be met “and if we don’t, we’re going to continue to keep pushing.”
So far 14 states have reached 70% coverage among adults, with about a dozen more on pace to reach the milestone by July 4. But the state-to-state variation is stark.
Fauci said the administration is “pleading” with states, particularly those with low vaccination rates, to step up their efforts in the coming months, though some of the states trailing behind are hardly sharing the urgency.
On a conference call Tuesday, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients delivered an impassioned call for governors to join the administration in “pulling out all the stops” on vaccinations this month.
“We need your leadership on the ground – which is where it matters the most – more than ever,” he said.
In Mississippi, which trails the nation with only about 34% of its population vaccinated, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has called Biden’s goal “arbitrary, to say the least.”
The vaccination rate in the state has dropped off so sharply that it would take the better part of a year for the state to reach the 70% target.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Reeves said he encouraged residents to get vaccinated, but that the more important marker was the decline in cases in the state.
Fauci on Tuesday emphasized that increased vaccination was essential to stamping out potentially dangerous variants.
In an attempt to drive up the vaccination rate, the White House has worked to encourage an array of incentives for people to get shots — from paid time off to the chance to win a million dollars. It’s 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 missing the target by several percentage points.
In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine created a lottery offering $1 million prizes for vaccinated adults and full-ride college scholarships for children. Ohio’s lottery kicked off a wave of similar incentive lotteries nationally.
DeWine’s May 12 announcement of the state’s Vax-a-Million program had the desired effect, leading to a 43% boost in state vaccination numbers over the previous week. But the impact was short-lived, with vaccinations falling again the following week.
For some, the chance of winning $1 million isn’t enough to overcome skepticism about the need for the vaccine.
Joanna Lawrence of Bethel in southwestern Ohio says the COVID-19 survivability rate is so high, and the experiences of people she knows who took the vaccine are so bad, that she sees no need to risk a shot for herself. She made it through her own bout of the coronavirus in August.
“My life is not worth money,” said Lawrence, 51, who farms and works in commercial real estate. “I can always get more money if I need to. I cannot get another life.”
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.