March 15, 2021
Speaking from the White House on March 11 in his first prime-time address as president, Joe Biden insisted that Americans should be ready to feel good about themselves and their country again. Then he laid out some ambitious benchmarks that will determine how justified they are in doing so, Slate reports.
The occasion for Biden’s speech was the first anniversary of the date when the World Health Organization classified the spread of COVID-19 as a pandemic.
It also came the same day that he signed the American Rescue Plan Act, the first major piece of legislation that has passed since he took office; which lays out $1.9 trillion in spending meant to help knock out the virus and revive the economy that it obliterated last year.
The former is the date on which he says his administration will “direct” states to make vaccine shots available to all adults.
The latter, as you might imagine, has symbolic importance: It’s the time by which he says enough Americans should be vaccinated that they should feel comfortable gathering together in modestly sized groups with family and friends.
The May 1 date seems intentionally chosen to be a little startling: Previously, the administration had mentioned the end of that month as the time by which enough vaccine doses for every American would be available, and the end of July as the time by which they could be fully distributed. Neither of those targets is necessarily contradicted by the president’s declaration that “you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1,” though.
“Let me be clear,” the president said. “That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to have that shot immediately, but it means you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1. Every adult will be eligible to get their shot.
According to Slate, there has also been an emerging belief among some experts that the public interest is better served by getting as many shots out the door as fast as possible, to whomever lines up for them, than by a slower process of careful prioritization.
The timeline announced Thursday, then, was less a promise than a national call to action—a statement of urgency directed not just at state-level political leaders and medical administrators but at the regular civilians at home who will have to take responsibility for finding themselves a shot.
Biden did, however, lay out goals that he can be judged on. For one, he promised that by May 1 the federal government will “launch, with our partners, new tools to make it easier for you to find the vaccine and where to get the shot, including a new website.” The site, Biden says, will allow every American to easily identify the nearest location where vaccinations are available. Promised the president: “No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.”
Such a tool would indeed be very useful. It would also seem to be an enormous logistical and technological undertaking, given the number of different public and private entities that are already involved in vaccine distribution. (There is almost certainly no one in the White House who is not aware of what happened the last time a Democratic administration promised to launch a health care website.)
The administration also said Thursday that it would more than double the number of community health centers, pharmacies, and federally run vaccination sites involved in the effort to finish the job that it says will be done—or at least done enough to barbecue—by July.
“This country can do anything, hard things, big things, important things,” Biden said toward the conclusion of his speech. Now he’s given his administration four months to deliver a specific series of them.
But, President Biden said, he cannot do it without the help of the American people, noting, “I promise I will do everything in my power, I will not relent until we beat this virus, but I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. And that’s not hyperbole. I need you.”
Research contact: @Slate