Biden touts new incentives in July 4 vaccination push

  • George Ripley, 72, of Washington, holds up his free beer May 6 after receiving the J & J COVID-19 vaccine shot, at The REACH at the Kennedy Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, facing a self-imposed July 4 deadline to have 70% of U.S. adults at least partly vaccinated against the coronavirus, tried Wednesday to rally the nation to meet that goal, announcing an offer of free child care for parents and caregivers while they receive their shots and a national canvassing effort resembling a get-out-the-vote drive.

Declaring June a “National Month of Action,” Biden appeared at the White House to implore Americans not only to get vaccinated, but also to help persuade their friends and neighbors to do so.

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He laid out an aggressive campaign that will include incentives from sports leagues like free tickets to the Super Bowl and to Major League Baseball games, and from private companies. United Airlines is offering a year of free flights in a sweepstakes open only to vaccinated Americans, and Anheuser-Busch has promised free beer to adults on Independence Day if the nation meets the president’s goal.

“That’s right, get a shot and have a beer,” Biden declared. “Free beer for everyone 21 years and over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”

Television pundits wondered aloud if the beer offer amounted to a bribe. But for Biden, the 70% goal is serious business — both a public health objective that will drive down infection and death rates, as well as a bench mark by which Americans will judge his administration.

Currently, 62.8% of American adults have received at least one coronavirus shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 12 states have passed the 70% mark; California and Maryland are the latest to do so. But a number of states, particularly in the South, are far short of that goal.

If the pace of adult vaccination continues at its current seven-day average, the nation will come in just shy of Biden’s target, with roughly 68% of adults partly vaccinated by July 4, according to a New York Times analysis. Reaching all eligible Americans remains a daunting task; as vaccination rates rise, the pool of the most willing adults is shrinking.

“We knew it was going to get harder,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, Biden’s surgeon general, acknowledged in an interview on CNN after the president spoke. Asked if the 70% mark is attainable, Murthy hedged, saying that if Americans “do everything that we have laid out today,” the nation could “absolutely still hit that goal, but nothing is guaranteed.”

The president announced several new initiatives. Four of the nation’s largest child care providers will offer free care to parents and caregivers while they get vaccinated. The National Association of Broadcasters will back a local radio and television advertising push, and a new “COVID-19 College Challenge” is aimed at vaccinating college and university students.

Demand for the vaccine is dropping. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that 351 federally supported vaccination sites had closed as of May 21, leaving a total of 1,619 nationwide. As of Wednesday, providers were administering about 1.1 million doses per day on average, about a 67% decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13, according to CDC data.

Lack of child care remains a major barrier to vaccination, experts say. The CDC recently reported that vaccination coverage among adults was lower among those living in counties with lower socioeconomic status and with higher percentages of households with children, single parents, and people with disabilities.

White House officials said two of the four providers — KinderCare and Learning Care Group, which together have more than 2,500 sites around the country — will offer free, drop-in appointments to any parent or caregiver who needs support to get vaccinated or recover from vaccination.

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“There is no question that both transportation and child care are real barriers for people,” Jha said. “The question that is unclear for me is whether offering free child care solves that problem” because parents might be unwilling to leave their children with caregivers they do not know.

To that end, the officials said, Biden will encourage states to use money from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress, to provide financial incentives or bonuses for smaller providers of community child care to stay open extra hours or otherwise help people get vaccinated.

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