President Joe Biden announced on Thursday night that he’s directing states, tribes, and territories to make all adults in the US eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by May 1, a key part of moving the country into the next phase of battling the pandemic.
Despite expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults by the beginning of May, the president and senior administration officials stressed that they expect the US won’t have enough vaccine supply for all adults until the end of the month.
"All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1," Biden said in a national address on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic being declared. "That's much earlier than expected. Let me be clear: That doesn't mean everyone's going to have that shot immediately, but it means you'll be able to get in line beginning May 1."
The announcement marks a sharp shift toward federal control over the pandemic response. So far, individual states have largely been tasked with leading vaccine rollout and setting eligibility requirements.
More than 98 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US so far, and 20 million doses are being shipped each week, roughly double the numbers of when the president took office. The Biden administration hopes this next push will help get the nation back to a more normal place by July 4. In a briefing Thursday afternoon, administration officials said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will continue to issue public health guidance on small gatherings according to vaccination pace and scientific research.
The president's call also steps over a CDC panel's recommendations, which only in the last month called for vaccinating frontline workers and those 65 and older.
Officials added that Biden is clear that gatherings would only become possible if Americans continue to wear masks and receive vaccinations when they’re eligible. “This isn’t just an automatic thing,” the official added.
“The president will talk about small gatherings like a barbecue in your backyard or in your neighborhood,” an official said. “He will be clear that does not mean large events where lots of people gather but it does mean that we can once again have an Independence Day, small gatherings, and celebrations.”
The administration is planning to combine expanded vaccine eligibility with efforts to ramp up vaccination sites across the country by doubling the number of pharmacies where people can get vaccinated, expanding community health centers, and doubling the number of federal mass vaccination sites.
Biden will also deploy more than 4,000 additional US soldiers to assist in vaccination efforts and will vastly expand the pool of people eligible to administer vaccinations.
The official said that the pool would include dentists, paramedics, physician assistants, veterinarians, and medical and healthcare students.
The administration plans to open a call center and launch a federally funded national website to find vaccine appointments by May 1. Senior administration officials said the White House will also offer support to improve state-run vaccination websites.
Biden moved this week to order another 100 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine with the aim of immunizing schoolchildren in the fall. This followed the brokered partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck, which will increase the manufacturing of those shots. The administration had previously arranged to have 600 million doses of the already authorized two-shot vaccines by summer, with the companies moving up the expected delivery of doses to May, which allowed Biden to make his call for opening the requirements to all adults.
Dan Vergano contributed reporting to this story.