In his first prime-time address on Thursday evening, President Joe Biden directed states to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1.
Biden also urged Americans to get the vaccine when it is available, and set a goal of returning the country to a semblance of normalcy by July 4.
“If we do this together, by July the Fourth there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” he said. “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together. But it does mean small groups will be able to get together… July Fourth with your loved ones is the goal.”
Biden began his address from the East Room of the White House by invoking the more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He said that many others had also died alone, and their loved ones had been unable even to hold a funeral.
He implored Americans to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci and medical experts who have vouched for the safety of the vaccine, and to listen to family and friends who have been vaccinated. He also urged Americans to continue to wear masks and abide by public health regulations.
“I need you to do your part,” he said. “Beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity… If we don’t stay vigilant and conditions change, we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track. And please we don’t want to do that again. We’ve made so much progress. This is not the time to let up.”
Biden also emphasized the loss of schooling for children, canceled graduations and other canceled events. He said the virus had also turned Americans against each other, and referenced the spate of attacks on Asian Americans.
“At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, are on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives,” he said. “And still, still, they’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong, it’s un-American and it must stop.”
Earlier on Thursday, Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID package, which extends unemployment benefits, delivers stimulus checks to most Americans, and provides billions for vaccine distribution and aid to state and local governments.
The last year has tested us in unimaginable ways, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
We will emerge stronger. pic.twitter.com/FJUnsVoKXX
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 12, 2021
Vaccines are currently being distributed to priority groups, including seniors, essential workers, teachers and those with compromised medical conditions. Biden said the administration plans to deliver at least 2 million shots a day, enough to open eligibility to all adults by May 1.
“Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean everyone is gonna have that shot immediately,” Biden said. “But it means you’ll be able to get in line beginning May 1.”
According to the White House, 81 million vaccinations have been delivered in Biden’s first seven weeks in office. The administration announced a ramping up of vaccine efforts over the next six weeks, including the deployment of 4,000 active duty troops. The administration also plans to double the number of federally run vaccination sites, and multiply the array of pharmacies and community health centers in the federal vaccine program.
The government will also establish a federal website by May 1 to help people find vaccination sites near them, as well as a toll-free number.