Why Joe Biden's Vaccine Target Failure Is Not a Disaster

President Joe Biden's administration is unlikely to meet its target of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4, but experts are not alarmed by the White House's elusive goal.

Biden announced the plan in a May 4 public address, at a time when about 56 percent of adults, or more than 145.3 million people, had received at least one dose.

"We know that many adults had not been vaccinated because they have found it too confusing or too difficult or too inconvenient to get a shot," said Biden, whose administration sought to promote vaccine outreach, awareness, and access.

"For those having trouble finding a location or making an appointment, we're going to make it easier than ever."

As of Monday, approximately 65 percent of U.S. adults—over 168.8 million people—received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, according to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The almost 10-percentage-point increase since Biden's announcement does not bode well for his July 4 target.

The Biden administration's goal would have been impeded by a number of factors, as CDC data shows a decrease in the nationwide vaccination rate since early April. On June 20, 848,611 new doses were administered, a drop from a peak of over 3.5 million doses on April 11.

Government data compiled by The New York Times shows disparities in inoculation campaigns across U.S. states. While over 80 percent of people in Vermont, Hawaii, and Massachusetts received at least one dose, Mississippi—the poorest U.S. state—found itself at the bottom of the list at 45 percent of people vaccinated.

Ideological distrust in COVID vaccines, fueled by the online proliferation of conspiracy theories, has also presented an obstacle. However, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation determined unvaccinated adults to be a "shrinking population" in the U.S. As of late May, about one-third of adults, or 37 percent, were not vaccinated.

The U.S. has over 34 million COVID cases, with its death toll standing at 617,166 as of Monday, according to John Hopkins University's tracker. The July 4 deadline approaches as the U.S. deals with the spread of the coronavirus' Delta variant, against which Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were found to be effective.

However, public health experts don't seem overly concerned.

"It is disappointing, but it is still worth remembering that in many communities around the US substantially more than 70 percent of adults have been vaccinated which is a huge achievement and a major step towards the post-COVID future," Dr. Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University's Chan School of Public Health, told Newsweek.

"Having said that, we must not give up working to immunize those who have not yet received a shot, as we can expect more transmission in the fall and winter."

Hanage said epidemiologists will be watching the South "carefully" in the coming months, due to "a lot of pandemic activity" last summer and the risk of outbreaks among certain communities with low vaccination rates.

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and director of the Global Health Initiative at Columbia University, told Newsweek the Biden administration's struggle to reach its target "should further energize public health, in a focused and determined way."

"It is always good to have ambitious targets, to drive action and momentum," she said.

"Of course, in public health, we are keenly aware, that the early adopters will come fast and thereafter, it is always a struggle," El-Sadr continued. "A struggle in terms of how to convince people of the importance of the vaccines, how to get them to being willing and eager to get vaccinated and bringing the vaccines to them."

"What we are seeing now is not unexpected, but should not dissuade us from recommitment to our ultimate goal of a protected population."

Joe Biden speaks at the White House
US President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccination program in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 18, 2021. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images