Biden accelerates Covid vaccine plan for all US adults 

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - President Joe Biden declared on Tuesday that every adult in the United States would be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus within two weeks, pushing forward the original May 1 deadline for the open season for inoculations by two weeks.

There will be no more perplexing rules. There will be no more perplexing limits, Biden said at the White House, declaring that by May 19, anyone "18 or older" will be qualified to be vaccinated.

The president's decision comes as the nation is seeing its fourth surge in COVID-19 outbreaks, including an uptick in infections among young adults.

"We aren't at the finish line," Biden cautioned. "We still have a lot of work to do. We're still in a life and death race against this virus." 

With development toward the coronavirus stalling in the United States, President Biden visited a pop-up inoculation site 12 kilometers south of the White House earlier Tuesday afternoon, where he stressed the need for an expanded vaccination drive.

"When you go home, get all your friends, tell them to get a shot when they can," Biden said to those inside a chapel of the Virginia Theological Seminary waiting to be vaccinated.   

New coronavirus cases have increased by 7% in the last week relative to the previous seven-day duration. Hospitalizations have risen by 3%, although coronavirus deaths have been confirmed to be significantly lower, at about 800 a day.

The increase in infections is being attributed to the relaxation of mask-wearing requirements, increased attendance at public events, increased domestic travel, and the emergence of more contagious variants of the virus.

"They are more virulent," Biden said at the inoculation site of the new COVID-19 strains. "They are more dangerous, but the vaccines work on all of them."  

The White House and health authorities are trying to keep the message of continued caution prevalent following a grueling 13-month stretch of being restrained by and afraid of the coronavirus.

"It is very difficult for people to keep two notions in their minds at the same time. The vaccinations are good, they're protecting a lot of people, but I still have to be wearing my mask and being very careful — social distancing," said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "We need to ask people to do that for a few more months."  

Virginia, like almost every other state, had recently declared that anyone 16 and over would be qualified for shots by the middle of this month, ahead of the White House's prior deadline.

However, in the state's northernmost district, an affluent area that is home to many federal government employees, the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has been outstripped by demand.

"We're going to need significantly more doses coming to Northern Virginia to prosper and achieve the governor's target," said Jeff McKay, chairman of the county board in Fairfax County, the state's most populous jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, a tier of critical employees known as 1c — a large community that includes restaurant workers, garbage haulers, hairstylists, attorneys, and accountants — has been eligible for vaccinations in rural districts but not in the state's most populous region in the north.

In the Washington area, many doses have been reserved for difficult-to-reach and elderly patients, although those who were eager to get vaccinated were unable to do so.

Having enough vaccine to inoculate all American adults within weeks is one accomplishment; having those who are unwilling to get the shot injected into their arms is another, phenomenon known as vaccine hesitancy.

"All of us as individuals need to reach out to people who are hesitant in any way that we can, and then listen to what those person's concerns are, respond to them to try and make them comfortable and reassure that vaccination is safe," Schaffner, a past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told VOA.  

According to the White House, more than 150 million shots have been administered in the United States, and nearly a third of the total U.S. population and about 40% of the adult population has received at least one dose, and nearly one-fifth of the total population is fully vaccinated for one of the three vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization by the FEMA.

Once the latest eligibility deadline arrives in two weeks, all adults will be able to book appointments for their vaccines at neighborhood health clinics, hospitals, drive-through injection sites in parking lots, and other locations.

The coronavirus has killed over 555,000 people and sickened over 30.8 million people in the United States, the highest recorded number for any country.

"This has been a long and difficult journey for the American public," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier Tuesday, cautioning against mass public gatherings. "We need to hang together. We need to remain vigilant."  

During his visit to the Virginia vaccine site, Biden told inoculators that the United States will "pretty soon" have enough doses to share with the rest of the planet.

"We need to solve it around the world," explained the president. "You can't build a wall or a fence high enough to keep out the virus."   

Other nations have lobbied Washington for vaccination doses, but the Biden administration has consistently confirmed that the first priority is to ensure that Americans are immunized.

VOA's Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.

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