The next 100 days of President Joe Biden’s term will test his administration in a critical new way: Convincing those who are not yet vaccinated to do so while making it more convenient for them to get their shot.
With an overwhelming majority of seniors now vaccinated, the Biden administration is turning its focus to working Americans under 50, looking for ways to incentivize businesses to encourage vaccination and trying to ensure ease of access with appointment-free vaccination at local pharmacies. And officials concede progress will look different this time because there are fewer people eager to get vaccinated, leading to an emphasis on new metrics like death rate.
“Every 1% from here on out will represent incredible progress for the country,” Andy Slavitt, a top official on the White House’s coronavirus response team, told CNN.
Between ramping up the manufacturing and supply of coronavirus vaccines to building out an infrastructure of tens of thousands of additional vaccination sites, Biden’s first 100 days brought significant progress in beating back the pandemic, with nearly 55% of US adults having now gotten at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.
Biden’s first 100 days in office were defined by his team’s efforts, and at times struggles, to ramp up vaccine supply and accessibility. Many say that was the easy part and the next stage will be tougher – but don’t tell that to Slavitt.
“There’s this frame that people are trying to use, which is, OK, they did the easy part, now’s the time for the hard part,’” he told CNN. “There has been no easy part.”
Still, the next 100 days will be critical to determining whether Biden can finish the job.
Officials described the next phase of the vaccination effort as a more targeted ground game that will “go from big swings to short strokes,” according to one official, heavily leveraging the federal retail pharmacy program to get shots in arms and a network of thousands of organizations and businesses working with the government to combat vaccine hesitancy. Some states are also now allocating doses to primary care doctors in an effort to reach their patients.
The White House is also planning to put new emphasis on metrics that show that the vaccines are working, like the declining death rate, which is expected to plummet in the coming weeks now that most seniors – who accounted for 80% of Covid-19 deaths – have been vaccinated.
A senior administration official said declining death rates tell “a very powerful story” as a way of convincing skeptical Americans that the vaccines are safe and effective.
Slavitt, who joined the White House in a temporary capacity, won’t be a part of that effort for much longer, a senior administration official told CNN. Because of the limitations on his position, he plans to leave his post in about a month.
White House officials have three overarching goals for the next 100 days of getting shots in arms: increasing accessibility and ease of vaccination, combating misinformation and helping those who don’t have the resources to get vaccinated to do so.
Getting at least one shot in the arms of 55% of adults may not have been easy, but public health experts say closing the gap to herd immunity will be more challenging. A CNN Poll released Wednesday afternoon showed about a quarter of adults say they won’t try to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
“This is the ground game phase,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and public health expert. “It’s frankly going to be a much more difficult phase for us to get from 50 to 75% than it was to get to 50%.”
As it stands, 24% of Americans say they will definitely or probably not get vaccinated, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week. A CBS News poll found 18% of Americans said they would “maybe” get a shot, while 22% said they would not.
As it looks to move those numbers, White House officials have said they view those who aren’t rushing to get their shot in two primary categories: those who would get the vaccine if it was more convenient and those who need more information to be convinced of the benefits of vaccination.
“The next set of people who want vaccines are not the people who are going to try and make 100 appointments and drive 100 miles. They are going to be the people that will maybe make one effort and travel one mile, or maybe even less than that,” Slavitt said, noting that the retail pharmacy program and tax credits for businesses who give their employees paid time off to get vaccinated are part of the solution.
As for those who are skeptical of the vaccine, Slavitt says, “Our battle is to get them real information from local trusted sources as opposed to Facebook.”
Slavitt himself has gone to great lengths to combat misinformation about the vaccine. In dozens of television appearances that range from late nights to weekends, Slavitt has used his plainspoken manner to make the case for the vaccine while arguing those with doubts need answers, not rebukes.
While debating the nuanced guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on what fully vaccinated people can do, Slavitt said in a recent interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo: “Let me roll it up this way. Everything is safer if you’re vaccinated.”
Slavitt joined the Biden administration as a special government employee, a restricted role for “important, but limited, services,” which means he can’t serve for longer than 130 days in a consecutive 365-day period.
He has been one of the most public figures on the pandemic since Biden took office and officials said his primary goal was to stay until every American who wanted to get vaccinated had that opportunity. That time could be coming soon – the President has promised that all Americans would be able to get vaccinated by the end of May and supply is already starting to outpace demand.