COVID-19 vaccine administration is way ahead of schedule for the Biden administration so far. This week, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. will have administered 100 million vaccines within the first 100 days of his administration, reaching his goal 42 days early.
“When we took office, there was a lot that had to be done. We needed more vaccines, more vaccinators, more places for people to get vaccinated,” Biden said in remarks delivered Thursday. “I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met our goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans.”
As of Friday morning, more than 115 million doses had been administered in the U.S. since vaccine distribution began in December.
Biden said that 65 percent of seniors aged 55 or older have received at least one vaccine dose, as compared to only 8 percent eight weeks ago. Across the nation, Biden said, an average of 2.5 million shots are being administered a day — on par with the findings of vaccine trackers.
Biden explained that his administration reached their goal early through his invocation of the Defense Production Act, which compelled companies to focus on manufacturing machinery and supplies for vaccine production and distribution. The “historic” partnership brokered by the administration between pharmaceutical companies Merck and Johnson & Johnson also sped up production, he said.
“These milestones are a significant accomplishment,” Biden said. At the beginning of Biden’s term, many observers noted that the goal of 100 million doses administered in 100 days itself was ambitious. Still, even having met the goal weeks ahead of schedule, “we have much more to do,” Biden continued. “Much more to do.”
As vaccine administration has risen since Biden took office, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have slowly been ticking down. Cases hit record highs in January following the winter holidays, and are now steadily falling. According to The New York Times’s vaccine tracker, case rates are down 13 percent in the last two weeks.
This decrease has occurred despite new variants reaching the U.S. and elsewhere, some of which are more transmissible than the earlier strain — and, despite the fact that the three vaccines currently in use may not be as effective against the strain first found in South Africa, known as B.1.351. The South African strain has been found in the U.S. in very limited numbers.
Though none of the vaccines are currently authorized for people under 16, Moderna and Pfizer are currently conducting trials on children. Immunization of children will be key to achieving herd immunity, especially as schools continue to reopen.
Also key to herd immunity is getting more adults on board with vaccination. Though Biden announced last week that his administration would instruct states to open up eligibility to all people 16 and up by May 1 as a result of increased vaccine supply, a big hurdle to returning to “normal” may be the significant portion of the population still resistant to receiving the vaccine.
Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser for COVID-19, say that between 70 and 90 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated for the U.S. to reach herd immunity. But a significant portion of the population could thwart that goal, as 40 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of the country overall say they won’t get the vaccine.
If the real percentage for herd immunity is closer to 90 percent, as Fauci has previously suggested, then even 15 percent of the population could kill hopes for herd immunity by refusing to get vaccinated.
Still, health experts and officials are hopeful that public health campaigns will convince more people to get the vaccine. Biden’s emphasis on getting local health care workers and preachers to get the word out may prove more effective than messages from former president Donald Trump, whose followers appear unconvinced. A focus group conducted earlier this week found that Republicans would be more swayed by experts than political figures to get vaccinated.