White House: U.S. To Narrowly Miss COVID Vaccination Goal President Biden set a goal of 70% of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. The White House is acknowledging Tuesday that it will likely come up short of that.

White House Says The U.S. Will Narrowly Miss Its Vaccination Goal

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The White House acknowledged today that the U.S. will not meet President Biden's goal of 70% of U.S. adults getting at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by July 4. In fact, it's going to take an extra couple of weeks to get there. And we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. And Tamara, let's just start with the data. How close is the country to meeting this goal? How worried is the White House about all this?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, moving at the current pace, an NPR analysis finds that the U.S. should get to about 67% of adults with at least one shot by July 4. But rather than admit that in a straightforward way, the White House is doing some mathematical gymnastics today. Here's COVID coordinator Jeff Zients on a briefing call with reporters.

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JEFF ZIENTS: So as to our goal of 70% for all adults, we're going to hit it for adults 27 and older. This is amazing progress and has our country returning to normal much sooner than anyone could've predicted.

KEITH: White House officials have taken to calling that goal aspirational, even arguing that the 70% number was sort of arbitrary, like Jen Psaki, the press secretary, argued today in the briefing room.

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JEN PSAKI: There was nothing ever magical through science about 70%. Seventy percent was a bold, ambitious goal we set to continue to drive to get more people vaccinated across the country.

KEITH: The White House has from the start set goals that they could - where they could under promise and over deliver. But in this case, the pace of vaccinations just really slowed down after that initial rush of people who were eager to get vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who advises the White House, said that when the goal was set, it was seen as achievable. And ultimately, it will be achieved, just not by that deadline that the White House itself had set.

But as White House officials have emphasized, it was about more than just a number. It was about America being a place where people could return to normal and their pre-pandemic lives. And cases are down. Deaths are down. Baseball stadiums are full. You know, by the metric of life returning to normal, America is largely there.

CORNISH: So for some context, what are...

KEITH: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Some of the reasons why they missed this 70% target?

KEITH: It's a demand issue. At this point, vaccines are readily available everywhere, but many people are still choosing not to get vaccinated. Some people fear the vaccine more than they fear the virus. The administration says this is particularly a challenge among 18- to 26-year-olds who just aren't as afraid of COVID and are therefore less motivated to get the vaccine. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says that vaccines are now available for everyone 12 and up. They have been proven to be wildly effective at preventing severe disease and death.

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ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Nearly every death due to COVID-19 is particularly tragic because nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19 is, at this point, entirely preventable.

KEITH: There's also a significant disparity among states in the Northeast. They have, you know, blown past the goal. And in several southern states and a couple of western ones, vaccine rates are still quite low, around 50% or less.

CORNISH: What does it mean in the areas of the country where there are these low vaccination rates?

KEITH: Well, it means that there are pockets of risk, pockets where there could be virus surges, especially with this new Delta variant, which is rapidly taking hold. It's much more contagious and, potentially, more dangerous. But Dr. Fauci says he doesn't think the U.S. is going to get to a place like we were before, where there were a thousand people a day dying. He says we're unlikely to see another frightening peak like we did in January, but there could be locally significant outbreaks.

CORNISH: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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