President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled new initiatives aimed at the one-third of the eligible U.S. population that has not gotten any COVID-19 vaccine shots, focusing on providing easier access.
Two days after his administration came up short in its goal to have 70% of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 – the current figure is 67% – Biden lauded the progress the nation has made against the coronavirus but warned about the dangers the highly transmissible delta variant presents.
He outlined several areas his team is emphasizing to ramp up vaccination efforts, including door-to-door outreach, sending vaccines to health care providers and pediatricians who can encourage adolescents to get shots, wider availability at pharmacies and expanding mobile clinics and vaccination sites for workers.
Biden also highlighted that by the end of the week, the U.S. is expected to have fully vaccinated 160 million residents, more than 55% of the eligible population.
“We are emerging from one of the darkest years in our nation’s history into a summer of hope and joy,” Biden said. “We can’t get complacent now. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family and the people you care about the most is to get vaccinated.’’
Also in the news:
►About 7,550 out of 19.5 million fully vaccinated Californians have contracted the coronavirus, a rate of infection of one in 2,582 that’s a testament to the vaccines’ effectiveness, according to an analysis by CalMatters of state data through June 23.
►Hundreds of Italian health care workers have sued local health authorities to avoid being suspended after they refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
►Fourteen people have been arrested in Mumbai, India, in connection with a scheme to administer fake COVID-19 vaccines to thousands of people, who actually got injected with salt water.
►Prime Minister Boris Johnson says people in England will no longer be required by law to wear face masks in indoor public spaces and to keep at least 3 feet apart as soon as July 19, the country’s so-called “Freedom Day.”
►Germany will ease strict rules on travel from Britain, Portugal, Russia, India and Nepal that were imposed because of a surge in cases from the delta variant.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 605,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 184.3 million cases and nearly 3.98 million deaths. More than 157.3 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 47.4% of the population, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: Since the beginning of the pandemic, a third of the 64 people who oversee the nation’s vaccination programs have left. In the midst of the largest vaccination effort in the country’s history, the nation lost a staggering amount of institutional knowledge. Read the full story.
A former top pandemic-response official for the Biden administration believes the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will get full approval from the Federal Drug Administration in a matter of weeks, which might help win over some vaccine skeptics.
Andy Slavitt, who in early June ended his run as senior adviser to the White House for COVID response, told CNN on Tuesday that he expects the Pfizer vaccine to be approved in four to five weeks, followed shortly afterward by the Moderna inoculation.
Both vaccines, which have been shown to be more than 90% effective against the coronavirus, are being administered under an emergency use authorization from the FDA. Getting full approval requires passing a higher level of scrutiny.
“For many of the people … who are on the fence, that will be a tell-tale sign for them to say, ‘Why am I on the fence any longer? This is now fully approved by the FDA,”’ Slavitt said. “Even though it’s got a great record already, that will I think be another stamp of approval.’’
He also said the increased risk presented by the delta variant, which is already the dominant strain in some states, might motivate some to get the vaccine.
COVID-19 cases were up in nearly half of U.S. states, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Alaska and Arkansas more than doubled cases in just the last week. South Carolina and Kansas are up more than 50%.
In Missouri, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients jumped by nearly 30% over the Fourth of July weekend in a hard-hit area where immunization rates are low, leading to a temporary ventilator shortage and a public call for help from respiratory therapists. The delta variant, first identified in India, is spreading rapidly throughout the state, straining hospitals in Springfield and raising fresh fears that the situation could soon grow worse as holiday gatherings seed fresh cases. Missouri leads the nation with the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days; 39.4% of residents there are fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 cases in Mississippi increased by almost 15% in June. Mississippi’s fully vaccinated rate of 31% is the lowest in the nation.
“It feels very reminiscent of where we were in an early part of the pandemic,” State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said during a June 29 press conference. “It feels like we’re in the same situation now with the delta variant.”
With the beginning of the Summer Olympics a mere 17 days away, the host country of Japan has fully vaccinated less than 14% of its population against COVID-19, as a recent inoculation push has been undercut by supply shortages.
Organizers have steadfastly resisted calls for canceling or postponing the Tokyo Games, scheduled to start July 23, and concerns are starting to turn into actual problems.
Gaps in border controls have emerged, highlighted by the discovery of infections among the newly arrived team from Uganda and positive tests for the highly contagious delta variant. As cases grow in Tokyo, so have fears that the influx of tens of thousands of visitors – even with foreign spectators banned – will spread the virus.
“We must stay on high alert,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters Thursday. Noting the rising caseloads, he said “having no (domestic) spectators is a possibility.”
More than 125 children and adults who attended a five-day camp run by a Houston-area church tested positive for the coronavirus. Clear Creek Community Church, which has four locations in and around Houston, canceled services this week because of the outbreak.
The camp, held June 23-27, had more than 450 participants, a large number of them middle schoolers and high schoolers. The church acknowledged the amount of infections stemming from the event may increase beyond what’s currently known.
“Hundreds more were exposed to COVID-19 at camp,” the church said on its website. “And hundreds of others were likely exposed when infected people returned home from camp.
“We are surprised and saddened by this turn of events,” the statement continued. “Our hearts break for those infected with the virus.”
More than 60 people died when a public hospital on Indonesia’s main island of Java ran out of oxygen as COVID rages around the country and oxygen supplies dwindle, said a senior health official.
At least 63 coronavirus patients died during treatment in the hospital since Saturday – 33 of them when the central liquid oxygen supply ran out – even though the hospital switched to using oxygen cylinders during the outage, the official said. Medical oxygen comes in liquid and compressed forms. The oxygen supply was stabilized early Sunday morning.
After a slow vaccination rollout, Indonesia is now racing to inoculate as many people as possible as it battles an explosion of COVID-19 cases that have strained its health care. But inadequate global supply of vaccines, the complicated geography of the world’s largest archipelago nation and hesitancy among some Indonesians stand as major roadblocks.
Contributing: The Associated Press