President Joe Biden stated that COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available to the general public by the end of July during the first televised town hall of his presidency.
Speaking with Anderson Cooper on Tuesday during his first town hall since being sworn in, the president touched on pandemic concerns including vaccination availability and school reopenings. Understandably the novel coronavirus is top of mind for Americans with more than 487,00 having died from COVID-19 and the United States leading the world in global cases, with more than 27 million infections. Cooper noted while new cases across the country have decreased, there is concern with variants circulating and a potential new surge coming.
“By the end of July we’ll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American,” Biden told Cooper.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden, has said he thinks widespread vaccinations will begin in the spring with large numbers of people able to be vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Biden explained a major obstacle for widespread vaccinations had been a lack of vaccinators — an issue he addressed with an executive order to increase the number of vaccinators. He also noted that when he assumed office, there were only 50 million doses available. Biden said he implemented the Defense Production Act to “get the manufacturing piece of it to get more equipment.”
“Now we have made significant strides increasing the number of vaccinators. I issued an executive order allowing former retired docs and nurses to do it. We have over a thousand military personnel… We have gotten the National Guard engaged… Plus we have opened up a considerable amount of locations where you can get the vaccine,” he told Cooper.
Speaking to the town hall’s socially distanced audience, Biden also addressed concerns over new varients that may eventually reduce the efficacy of vaccines against COVID-19. “If you can get a vaccination, get it whenever you can get it, regardless of the other strains that are out there,” Biden said.
“It may be that a certain vaccination for a certain strain may reduce from 95% to a lower percentage of certainty that it will keep you from getting it. But it will still be effective. So the clear notion is, if you’re eligible, if it’s available, get the vaccine. Get the vaccine,” he added.
Other pandemic topics of discussion during Tuesday’s town hall included school reopenings and teachers receiving vaccines.
When asked how students could return to classrooms, Biden emphasized teachers need to be made a priority to receive shots. “I think we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy,” he said.
He added that a goal would be for kindergarten through eighth grade schools to open five days a week, even suggesting schools remain open through the summer to make up for lost learning time amid the pandemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines on Friday for reopening schools that note five COVID-19 mitigation strategies: universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; contact tracing, isolation and quarantine. Vaccines and testing are not included among the school reopening strategies laid out by the agency.
As the country nears its one-year mark for enduring the pandemic, Biden shared — albeit cautiously — when he thinks things can return to normal when considering current vaccinations, an upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccination, and the diminishing number of cases due to herd immunity.
Noting he did not want to “over-promise anything,” Biden shared hopes for the country to be “in a very different circumstance” by “next Christmas.”
“A year from now, I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don’t know,” Biden added.
The shadow of President Donald Trump’s presidency appeared for a moment amid the town hall discussion, when Cooper asked Biden if he agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comment that Republican senators who voted to acquit former President Trump were “cowards.”
“I’m not going to call names out. Look, for four years all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years I want to make sure all the news is the American people,” Biden answered, then adding “I’m tired of talking about Trump.”