US president Joe Biden has warned Americans that “this is not a time to relax” as he celebrated the administering of 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses since he took office.
Speaking at an event in the White House, where four individuals received their first Covid vaccines, Mr Biden said while progress had been made, people must remain vigilant. “We must keep washing our hands, keep socially distancing, and for God’s sake wear a mask.”
“In five weeks America has administered the most shots of any country in the world. We’re among the highest percentage of population fully vaccinated. That’s progress,” he said. But he added: “The worst thing we could do is let our guard down.”
“This is not a victory lap.”
The president said the new milestone showed his administration was on track to deliver on his campaign promise to deliver 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.
“We’re moving in the right direction despite the mess we inherited,” he said. Before his inauguration, he said, the previous White House administration was administering six million shots a week. “This coming week we will administer over 12 million shots – double the pace in just six weeks we’ve been in office.”
He also noted nearly 60 per cent of people over the age of 75 have now received at least one shot, while 75 per cent of people who live in long-term care facilities have received their first shot.
Ahead of a key meeting of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday, when it is expected the regulatory body will approve the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for use, Mr Biden said the research this week that showed its efficacy was “very promising”. He said the FDA would make its decision “based on science, not due to any political pressure from me or anyone else”.
He also warned of the challenge posed by vaccine hesitancy, particularly in communities most adversely impacted by the pandemic. He said: “The time is coming – maybe 60 or 90 days – when the supply is adequate but not enough people can access the shots or don’t want them”.
“If there is one message that needs to cut through, it’s that vaccines are safe and effective,” he said.
The rollout of vaccinations has picked up in recent weeks in the United States, with about 1.7 million vaccines now being administered daily. Mr Biden was due to address a meeting of the National Governors’ Association later in the day, his latest outreach to states which are at the coalface of vaccine delivery in the country.
Speaking at the launch of a new mass vaccination site in Maryland on Thursday, Republican governor Larry Hogan said that he, and other state governors, had been working very closely in partnership with the Biden administration. “We’re all in the same boat, trying to get more vaccines. They have slowly ramped that up. We’re all excited about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – this is an all-hands-on-deck effort.”
Mr Biden is expected to visit a vaccination site when he visits Houston, Texas on Friday, a trip that was announced following last week’s winter storms that left millions of Texans without electricity and water and exposed the state’s energy vulnerabilities.
It is expected that the House of Representatives could vote as early as Friday on Mr Biden’s $1.9 trillion (€1.56 billion) Covid relief package – an ambitious plan that has been his main legislative focus since taking office. The Senate must also vote on the plan, with the inclusion of a $15 an hour federal minimum wage proposal proving controversial.
On Thursday, another member of Mr Biden’s cabinet was confirmed by the Senate. Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm was confirmed as the new energy secretary.