President Joe Biden will order states to make coronavirus vaccines available to all American adults by May 1, in an effort to accelerate the mass vaccination effort critical to ending the pandemic, senior administration officials said Thursday.
The directive is part of a broader administration plan that Biden will lay out during his first prime-time address Thursday night, with the goal of getting the U.S. “closer to normal” by July 4.
“There’s a good chance that families, friends, neighbors will be able to gather in small groups to celebrate Independence Day,” a senior administration official said of Biden’s vision for the next stage of the federal pandemic response.
The White House, with new funding from the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan Biden signed hours earlier, is planning to double the number of mass vaccination sites and pharmacies where people can get shots, while also surging medical personnel across the country. Biden’s health department is also expanding the pool of people qualified to administer vaccines to include a wide range of medical professionals, including paramedics, dentists and medical and health care students.
But the May 1 deadline for opening eligibility could irk some states, and risk further driving a wedge between the White House and governors who have sought control over their respective vaccination efforts. Some state leaders have already bristled at Biden’s order earlier this month to prioritize educators for vaccines — a directive that caught them off guard.
Almost two hours before Biden’s speech, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients held a brief call with governors to outline the new timelines and federal resources. Zients didn’t take questions from governors, according to a source on the call.
Only Alaska currently allows all adults to seek Covid vaccines, a decision that was announced earlier this week. Several other states, including Texas and New York, are planning to widen their eligibility in the coming days. But they have so far done so incrementally and at varying speeds.
Senior administration officials insisted that Biden has the authority to force states, tribes and jurisdictions to make the vaccine available to all American adults, and that they would be well-positioned to do so by May as supply ramps up.
“That’s much earlier than expected, and reflects our success working with the vaccine manufacturers to increase supply and secure doses,” a senior administration official said. “That doesn’t mean everyone will get a shot immediately. But May 1 is the day every adult will be eligible to sign up.”
That’s not to say everyone will be able to line up for a shot on May 1. The administration says it doesn’t expect to have enough vaccine for every adult until the end of May. And even then, it will take time to deliver and administer doses, not to mention convince people hesitant or reluctant to get vaccinated.
The administration also plans to deploy more than 4,000 troops to aid the vaccination push, and will start delivering vaccines to an additional 700 community health centers. By May 1, it will launch a website and call center dedicated to helping Americans sign up for their shots.
The White House on Friday is expected to announce a new mass vaccination site in Michigan, according to a senior administration official. The administration is also weighing new sites in Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington.
Biden on Thursday night is also expected to outline a series of steps aimed at reopening schools, backed with fresh funding from the stimulus package Democrats passed without Republican votes. That will include pouring $130 billion into helping schools pay for the supplies needed to renovate their classrooms to meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety recommendations, the officials said, as well as to hire more staff.
The government will also invest $650 million into expanding testing in K-8 schools and congregate settings in underserved communities — a measure that the officials characterized as a “short-term bridge” to a more robust, national testing regime the country has lacked throughout the pandemic.
“The fight is far from over, we still have a lot of work to do,” a senior administration official said, previewing Biden’s message. “But together, unified, we can defeat this pandemic and we can celebrate a more normal Fourth of July gathering with family and friends in small groups.”
Erin Banco and Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.