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More than a dozen American states to open vaccines to all adults

The rapid expansion has fuelled concerns that the number of eager vaccine seekers will far outstrip the available supply of shots, frustrating millions of newly eligible people who have waited since late last year for a chance to get an injection. Other officials have put their faith in a promised glut of vaccines and instead turned their attention to the next challenge: Pressing as many people as possible to get the shots so the nation can achieve herd immunity at the earliest opportunity.

Vaccination rates in Texas have lagged behind much of the US, and although state officials Monday put at least part of the blame on delays in data reporting, they also acknowledged that appointment slots are going unfilled.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.Credit:Bloomberg

Demand “has definitely decreased over the past couple of weeks,” said Imelda Garcia, the head of the state’s expert vaccine allocation panel.

Later on Monday (Tuesday AEDT), Biden addressed the nation from the White House, declaring, “If we let our guard down now, we can see the virus getting worse, not better. People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing.”

Biden delivered a direct appeal to governors, state and local leaders to reinstate mask-wearing requirements if they have eased them.

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“Please, this is not politics, reinstate the mandate if you let it down,” he said.

Biden announced that by April 19 at least 90 per cent of the adult US population would be eligible for vaccination — and would have access to a vaccination site within 8 km of home. Quick vaccination would still depend on supply as well as overcoming some people’s hesitancy about the shots.

Biden had previously directed that all states make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, but many have moved to lift eligibility requirements sooner in anticipation of supply increases.

Meanwhile, the White House was moving to double the number of pharmacies participating in the federal retail pharmacy program — which has emerged as among the most efficient avenues for administering vaccines — and increase the number of doses for them to deliver. The retail pharmacies are located in close proximity to most Americans and have experience delivering vaccines like the flu shots.

Biden announced that the US was expecting delivery of 33 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week — including 11 million doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

“The president has not held back in calling for governors, leaders, the American people to continue to abide by the public health guidelines,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “He will continue to do that through all of his engagements.”

Walensky and Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, appealed to elected officials, community leaders and everyday Americans to maintain social distancing measures and mask wearing.

“We are doing things prematurely,” Fauci said, referring to moves to ease up on restrictions. Walensky appealed to Americans, “Just please hold on a little while longer.”

She added: “We are not powerless, we can change this trajectory of the pandemic.”

Walensky pointed to an uptick in travel and loosening virus restrictions for the increase in cases. “People want to be done with this. I, too, want to be done with this,” Walensky said.

“We’ve seen surges after every single holiday,” she reiterated: “Please limit travel to essential travel for the time being.”

The White House, meanwhile is ruling out the creation of a national “vaccine passport” for Americans to verify their immunisation status, saying it is leaving it to the private sector to develop a system for people show they’ve been vaccinated. Some other countries are establishing national databases to allow vaccinated people to resume normal activities.

“We do know that there is a segment of the population that is concerned that the government will play too heavy-handed of a role in monitoring their vaccinations,” said White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt. He said officials are worried that “it would discourage people” from getting vaccinated if the federal government was involved.

The administration, instead, is developing guidelines for such passports, touching on privacy, accuracy and equity, but the White House has not said when those guidelines will be ready.

AP

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