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200 million Americans vaccinated, millions more to go

Over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first barreled across the globe, a whopping 200 million Americans have been inoculated against the virus. But with most restrictions easing here now as summertime approaches, President Joe Biden told the country Wednesday that it still has a “long way to go.”

“Some experts say our rapid vaccination efforts have already saved tens of thousands of American lives,” the president said from the White House. “We’ll never know exactly but we know it saved lives that have otherwise been lost.”

Calling on employers to get more creative in the fight for herd immunity via vaccination, Biden suggested that they roll out unique incentives, bonuses or other programs to spur shots. He said paid sick leave for employees to get their vaccine, and potentially to recover from it, should be available. The administration intends to fund that benefit with a tax credit through its COVID-19 recovery plan.

The tax credit will offset the cost for employers with fewer than 500 employees for up to 80 hours and up to $511 per day of paid sick leave from April 1 to September 30, 2021. The IRS and Department of Treasury are already on board, the White House said Wednesday, and have provided tips for business owners online.

“Providing paid time off for vaccinations is an investment in the safety, productivity and health of an employer’s own workforce and their community. No working person in this country should lose a single dollar from their paycheck to take time to get the shot or recover from it. The paid leave tax credit that President Biden signed into the law in the American Rescue Plan ensures that no small businesses or non-profits will lose a single dollar by providing such paid leave to workers receiving a vaccination,” the White House said in a statement ahead of Biden’s remarks.

By April 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 50.4% of adults 18 and older, or roughly 130 million Americans, were at least partially vaccinated — meaning they had received at least one shot to fend off the deadly respiratory virus.

That same report indicated that at least 32.5%, or 84 million adults, have been fully vaccinated, meaning they received the complete two-dose Pfizer or Moderna regimen or the single-dose regimen offered by Johnson & Johnson.

That achievement was a milestone for the administration that had inherited from former President Donald Trump a largely patchwork and highly politicized approach to the pandemic plus  a “culture of denial” that reportedly reached high up the rungs of the federal bureaucracy.

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When Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, the U.S. had administered 20 million vaccines, or just under a million shots per day at that point. While widely considered estimable given the novelty of the virus and the speed with which the vaccines were manufactured from start to finish, health experts and economists alike agreed the pace was still grindingly slow since it put herd immunity goals roughly 18 months out. 

Since then, the Biden administration has put the U.S. on a path toward having enough supply of the vaccine for every adult over 18 by the end of May.

Now that all states have opened inoculations to individuals 16 and older, the White House has said the U.S. is ready to meet the demand and will have enough supply for every American to get their shot by July.

Looking to the future, the president on Wednesday said he was hopeful but cautious.  

“In the weeks ahead as seniors reach full vaccination, the number of lives lost will continue to decrease,” Biden remarked. “As we continue, the time is now to open up a new phase of this historic vaccination effort. To put it simply, if you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer. Now is the time for everyone over 16 years of age to get vaccinated.”

Even with the medicine flowing, vaccine hesitancy poses another hurdle, albeit one that appears to have steadily waned. U.S. census data compiled and analyzed by ABC News notes hesitancy rates fell from 21.5% to 15.6% since January.

Meanwhile, a Monmouth University poll published last week found at least 1 in 5 Americans rejects the vaccine. The defining factor among those who want to avoid the shot? Their politics. According to Monmouth’s survey, 43% of those who “want to avoid the vaccine altogether” are Republicans versus just 5% of Democrats saying the same.

But another poll by the public health group, the de Beaumont Foundation, suggested the gap between red and blue appears to be narrowing. When asked whether participants agreed with the statement, “The bottom line is COVID-19 vaccines save lives and Americans should continue to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” 63% of those surveyed agreed and of them, 60% were Trump voters while 72% had voted for Biden.

“A similar number, 61% of all voters and 60% of Trump voters said they agreed with the statement, ‘The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,'” according to the pollsters. “That compares with 66% of  Biden voters.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation also released a study early this month that found, of 1,001 adults surveyed across rural America, 54% said they had received a vaccine or planned on getting it.

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Positively, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports rural communities are managing to keep pace with cities and suburbs when it comes taking the shot, but there is emerging concern that seniors living in rural areas simply are not getting their vaccines at the same rate as seniors in suburban or urban regions.

Then there’s the matter of age — Quinnipiac University reported Tuesday that nearly a third of adults under 35 surveyed said they have no plan whatsoever to get a vaccine.

Biden called this group out in his remarks Wednesday. “It will keep you from getting very sick or dying,” he said of the vaccine. “Hundreds of Americans are still dying from COVID every day. If you are fully vaccinated two weeks behind your last shot, you are nearly 100% protected against death from COVID, no matter what your age or health history. Until you’re fully vaccinated, you’re still vulnerable.”

Effective this week, he added, 95% of Americans live within 5 miles of a place where they can obtain a shot under federal vaccination program. Nearly 40,000 pharmacies are considered vaccine ready, according to the CDC.

“If you’re buying toothpaste, you can stop and get vaccinated. It’s free, it’s convenient and increasingly available,” Biden said.

Increasing trust in the vaccine will continue to be a priority following Johnson & Johnson’s pause of its product in the U.S. after reports of blood clotting, albeit very rarely.

Out of more than 7 million who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, eight people reported a very rare and dangerous form of blood clotting in the brain. One of these individuals died — leading the CDC to recommend pausing further usage of the one-shot vaccine pending an investigation.

An advisory panel to the CDC will meet Friday to review whether the data justifies lifting the pause, as happened in Europe on Tuesday, along with a warning about the very rare side effect.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the White House, has said he supports the lift and would support a warning label.

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Barbara Leonard/Courthouse News

Volunteers and health care workers carry out a mass vaccination campaign at the former site of a Sears department store in a partnership with San Diego County, the city of Chula Vista and Sharp HealthCare.