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Deadline For Every Adult To Be Eligible For A Vaccine Moved To April 19

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden today announced he is moving up his deadline for when he wants all adults to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: By no later than April 19, in every part of this country, every adult over the age of 18 or older will be eligible to be vaccinated - no more confusing rules, no more confusing restrictions.

CHANG: All right. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now with more about the status of the vaccine campaign in the U.S.

Hey, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: Now, President Biden had previously announced a deadline of May 1 - right? - for making the vaccine available to all adults. But now he's obviously moving that up. What is the significance of this announcement, you think?

STEIN: You know, at this point, it is kind of symbolic since most states are already doing that or planning to. But it does illustrate the two big trends right now with the pandemic in this country - the rapid ramping up of the vaccination campaign and the urgency of getting people vaccinated. You know, it's become almost a cliche, but the country really is in a race to vaccinate as many people as fast as possible to try to prevent yet another deadly surge because the country faces twin threats right now. More contagious variants are spreading around the country, and at the same time, people are letting down their guard. They're traveling more. States are loosening up. And that's a really dangerous combination of factors that could send things spiraling out of control again.

CHANG: Definitely. OK, so where exactly does the vaccination campaign stand right now?

STEIN: Yeah, so President Biden announced that the U.S. has administered 150 million doses in his first 75 days in office, which is on track with the president's previously stated goal of reaching 200 million doses in his first hundred days. So that's the good news. The bad news is that all the other numbers are going in the wrong direction. The number of people getting infected every day is still rising again, along with the number of people ending up in the hospital. And some of the new hot spots are really worrying. You know, infections are still soaring in Michigan, and infections are rising in other places, too - across the Midwest, throughout the Northeast in places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

CHANG: OK, and what's been the reaction so far to the president's latest vaccine deadline?

STEIN: You know, Ailsa, it's been kind of mixed. You know, some are welcoming the move, saying the supplies are steadily increasing now, along with the capacity of states to actually get shots into people's arms. So it's important to ramp up demand, but others worry about the focus on just increasing the number of eligible people. You know, if all comers are now eligible, that could make it harder for people who really need to get vaccinated to get access. And some say the administration needs to focus more on getting the shots to people who are most vulnerable, you know, like the elderly and people of color. Here's Bill Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

BILL HANAGE: The people who are easy to vaccinate have already been vaccinated. Expanding the eligibility in this way is an easy way to add to the numbers, but it's not necessarily vaccinating those people who would benefit most from the shot.

STEIN: Now, President Biden did kind of address these concerns when he spoke late this afternoon, appealing to the elderly to get vaccinated and taking - saying he was taking steps to make it easier for people to get vaccinated, to reach those vulnerable people more easily.

CHANG: And real quick, what about the supply? Is there enough vaccine available right now to vaccinate every adult?

STEIN: Well, the supply is increasing, but it's still not easy to get vaccinated everywhere. So, you know, opening up the vaccination eligibility even more could make it harder for those who really need to get it because they'll be competing against more people. And it looks like supplies could quickly become more plentiful, but the big challenge there will be convincing enough people who are still hesitant to get vaccinated because...

CHANG: Right.

STEIN: If we don't vaccinate enough people, we won't be able to get this pandemic under control.

CHANG: That is NPR's Rob Stein.

Thank you, Rob.

STEIN: You bet, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.