By Trevor Hunnicutt
U.S. President Joe Biden will announce on Tuesday that the target to make COVID-19 vaccines available to everyone age 16 and older will be moved up by nearly two weeks, the White House said, as the United States has administered 150 million shots since he took office.
Biden will direct states to widen the vaccine eligibility by April 19, two weeks earlier than the May 1 deadline he announced previously. No COVID-19 vaccine is yet authorized for children under 16, although testing is underway.
Biden is “confirming for the public that everyone is eligible around the country,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. That means Americans no longer need to check with state and local websites to see whether they qualify, she said.
Biden plans to tell Americans that “this is the time to go,” Psaki said. “The lines are going to become longer. There are going to be more people waiting,” she said.
But vaccine supplies and efficiency in getting shots into arms have increased significantly in the race to get more people inoculated as more contagious virus variants circulate.
On Tuesday, Biden is scheduled to tour a vaccination site at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, before making the announcement at the White House around 3:45 p.m.
“Governors – Democrats and Republicans – are working with (the White House COVID-19 response team) to accelerate the vaccination program,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said on Twitter.
When vaccine doses were in shorter supply, states initially limited distribution to higher-risk groups, such as the elderly and front-line healthcare workers.
Upon taking office in January, Biden set a goal of delivering 100 million shots into people’s arms within his first 100 days in office, which is the end of April. That goal has since been doubled to 200 million.
COVID-19 has killed more than 555,000 people in the United States, but more than 167 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country. Four in 10 Americans have had at least one vaccine dose, a rate far ahead of most countries.
The authorized vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech both require two doses, while Johnson & Johnson’s is a one-shot vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for those aged 16 and up, while the other two can be given to adults age 18 and older.
U.S. vaccine distribution began haltingly under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.