President Joe Biden announced Wednesday a sprint to vaccinate more Americans using incentives like child care, longer pharmacy hours and promotional freebies before a July 4 goal of getting 70 percent of American adults to receive their first shots.
The “national month of action” comes as vaccination rates decline and states scramble to persuade the cautious and stubborn to get a shot before doses expire.
“We’re announcing a monthlong effort to pull out all the stops,” Biden said in an address.
“I don’t want to see the country that has already become too divided become divided in a new way — between places where people live free from COVID and places where, when the fall arrives, death and severe illness has returned,” Biden said. “Everywhere around the world, people are desperate to get a shot that Americans can get at their neighborhood drugstore.”
The campaign will partner with colleges, businesses, local government leaders, volunteer organizations, churches, social media influencers, celebrities and athletes, according to the White House.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are planning a national vaccination tour to encourage uptake, with Harris’ travel concentrated in the South.
The new efforts include a range of initiatives.
- Major pharmacy chains — Albertsons and Safeway, CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens — will offer later hours every Friday this month to promote vaccination.
- Free drop-in day care appointments at KinderCare, Learning Care Group and some YMCAs are designed to support parents getting or recovering from a shot. Bright Horizons locations are also providing child care for 10 million eligible workers. New Health and Human Services guidance could incentivize smaller, independent child care providers to tap COVID-19 relief funds for this purpose as well.
- Biden will ask volunteers to participate in door-to-door canvasses and phone banking events to call people in areas with low vaccination rates, coordinated through a new site: WeCanDoThis.hhs.gov. The White House hopes to increase people’s awareness of resources like Vaccines.gov, “text 4-3-8-8-2-9,” and the National COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline (1-800-232-0233), which provide information about nearby vaccination sites.
- An initiative led by Black Coalition Against COVID will support outreach efforts and clinics at Black-owned barber shops and beauty salons.
- The administration will provide mayors and other city and county officials with toolkits for increasing vaccination in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. On July 4, the White House will recognize the city that boosts vaccine rates the most.
- The campaign also spotlights on a new government web page the paid leave offered by major employers and corporate freebies like free cruises, baseball tickets and Xboxes. The offers include a new Anheuser-Busch campaign to reimburse a beer for every American adult over the age of 21 once the 70 percent threshold is reached. The administration will also push for more workplace clinics.
The administration is providing toolkits and training materials to colleges and universities to aid in on-site clinics as part of a “COVID-19 College Challenge.” Student volunteers with the COVID-19 Community Corps, which was created this spring, are set to help encourage vaccination.
An effort to change people’s feelings about the authorized vaccines may be more valuable than simply emphasizing the safety and efficacy data over and over, according to experts.
“Psychologists have told us getting out the right information is important, but not sufficient. What we have to alter is attitudes. We have to ensure people feel comfortable and reassured,” said William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt Medical Center infectious disease professor. “I’m not concerned about whether people have all of the right information about the vaccine and get an ‘A’ on the quiz. … I’m concerned with how they feel about the vaccine.”
But the administration is crunched for time as it seeks to break down barriers, as many states independently warn that tens of thousands of doses are at risk of expiring on providers’ shelves before June 30. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine expires after three months, and began shipping in early March.
Conversations are ongoing with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on exploring potential solutions like extending expiration dates, more effectively sharing doses across providers, or exporting them abroad, according to state officials.
“Ensuring vaccines don’t go to waste is a joint effort among the federal government, jurisdictions, and vaccine providers, and so far, just over one-half of 1% of all doses delivered has been wasted,” CDC spokesperson Kate Grusich said in an email. “Some level of wastage is expected in any vaccination program, but CDC and federal partners continue to work closely with jurisdictions and vaccine providers to minimize potential wastage.”
FDA did not return a request for comment.
Twelve states have hit the marker of getting 70 percent of adults their first shot, according to the White House. A further 28 states and Washington, D.C., have fully vaccinated 50 percent of adults.
“Obviously, we have already harvested the proverbial low-hanging fruit, so every increment above that is going to get harder and harder,” Schaffner said.