Nine out of 10 adults in the United States will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine three weeks from now, President Joe Biden announced Monday during remarks that were dosed with a warning of a devastating resurgence of COVID-19 in the country.
“We’re in a life-and-death race with a virus that is spreading quickly with cases rising again,” Biden said. “New variants are spreading and, sadly, some of the reckless behavior we've seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead.”
Earlier in the day, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, expressed a feeling of “impending doom,” pointing out a picture similar to that of Europe of a few weeks ago. Another wave of coronavirus infections is now sweeping the continent.
But Walensky said the latest virus figures from around the United States show the daily average for infections rising by 10% over the past week, to nearly 70,000 per day. Hospitalizations were up by more than 4% and deaths by almost 3%.
Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris standing in the background in the White House South Court auditorium, reiterated his call to governors, mayors and other local leaders not to relax restrictions on the mandatory wearing of masks.
“Please, this is not politics, reinstate the mandate if you let it down,” implored the president, adding that businesses should also require masks.
Republicans are criticizing Biden for being too slow to reopen the economy and what they deemed an overly cautious approach. “What America needs now is to fully reopen our economy and our classrooms,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter.
Biden also announced the federal government will ensure, by April 19, the number of pharmacies where people can get inoculated will double so that those eligible for the vaccine will have a site for the shot within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of their homes.
Biden also said his administration is increasing the number of pharmacies in the federal vaccination program from 17,000 to nearly 40,000 across the country and will establish a dozen more mass vaccination sites by April 19.
A new effort is also under way to fund community organizations to provide transportation and assistance for seniors and other groups deemed at high risk, such as those with disabilities, to be able to get access to vaccines, according to the president.
New York, the fourth most populous state, announced Monday that starting March 30 all state residents who are 30 years old or older will be eligible for the vaccine.
As of Monday, federal officials report that more than 95 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine and 52.6 million people have been fully vaccinated in the United States.
The coronavirus has killed nearly 547,000 people in the country and infected more than 30 million, according to the CDC.
A study released Monday by the CDC shows that the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in real-world conditions.
The study was conducted among nearly 4,000 health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers in six U.S. states between mid-December of last year and the middle of this month. The results showed the risk of infection was reduced by 80 percent after one dose and 90 percent after two doses.
CDC Director Walensky, speaking during a White House COVID-19 response team briefing, said the study showed the two vaccines can be effective not only in symptomatic infections but in asymptomatic infections as well. She called it “tremendously encouraging” and that it complements other recent studies.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organization report on the origin of the COVID-19 virus is being reviewed by 17 U.S. experts, according to the White House.
"We have been clear that independent, technically sound investigation is what our focus is on, and once this is reviewed, we'll have an assessment about the steps forward," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday about the WHO report.
The joint WHO study with China on the origins of COVID-19 says that the virus was probably transmitted from bats to humans through another animal and that a leak from a laboratory in Wuhan was "extremely unlikely" as a cause, according to media organizations which obtained an advance copy of the report.
“All hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies from what I have seen so far,” commented WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.