White House fears bumpy rollout deterring people from COVID-19 vaccine shots

Doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant/TNS

WASHINGTON — Top White House health officials are concerned the COVID-19 vaccination campaign’s slow rollout early on could be deterring people from getting their first shots, and are emphasizing that every American adult is now eligible for a vaccine.

“Things are about to get a whole lot easier,” Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser on COVID-19, said Monday.

While vaccination was challenging in the early months because of low supply, a lack of vaccinators and varied eligibility, getting a vaccine has gotten simpler. Every American over the age of 16 is eligible for a shot as of Monday, after President Joe Biden pushed up his original May 1 deadline for states to open up eligibility.

“There are so many Americans who still think getting a vaccine is a complicated and confusing process because when it rolled out, indeed it was more challenging and difficult,” Slavitt said. “We need to remind people that it’s easy.”

The country is averaging about 3 million vaccinations per day, with the help of state and county health officials, pharmacists, volunteers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Biden is 96% of the way toward 200 million shots in the administration’s first 100 days, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.

So far, 131 million people, or 39.5% of the population, has received one dose, according to CDC data. That accounts for more than half of U.S. adults over 18 years old.

About 84 million people, or about 25% of the population, is fully vaccinated, including 66% of people over age 65.

Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont were among the last states to open up eligibility to all adults, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But access issues still remain. Local news reports in states like Illinois and Washington indicate many people hoping to sign up for an appointment still face restrictive, confusing websites and lack of supply.

And the swift transition to broad eligibility could make remediating the deeper impact of the pandemic on Black and Latino Americans more difficult.

Public health officials say they are receiving a lot of calls from people worried about the safety of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration recommended providers pause giving it because of exceedingly rare but potentially serious blood clots in six people.

As supply from Moderna and Pfizer grew recently, the White House has pivoted to spurring demand.

Biden health officials are doing a slew of media appearances meant to reassure people who remain skittish, with a focus on outlets that reach Black and Latino Americans, as well as conservatives, Axios reported. Biden will film a public service announcement, and some Facebook and Twitter users will receive push notifications, according to the outlet.

Walensky underscored that masks and avoiding crowds remain essential since the vaccines take a few weeks to prepare the immune system to combat the virus.

The U.S. is averaging about 67,000 cases per day, up from 53,000 cases per day one month ago, according to the CDC. While some public health experts hoped the high vaccination rate among seniors would prevent an increase in mortality, average daily deaths have also started to creep up, reaching nearly 700 deaths Sunday.

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