White House offers new tax credit to help spur vaccinations
President Biden on Wednesday announced new employer tax credits and other steps to encourage hesitant Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine as his administration tried to overcome diminishing demand for the shots.
The moves came as Biden celebrated reaching his latest goal of administering 200 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.
More than 50% of adults are at least partially vaccinated and roughly 28 million doses are being delivered each week, but demand is still eclipsing supply — in much of the country — and is the constraining factor to vaccinations.
But in a White House speech on Wednesday, Biden acknowledged entering a “new phase” in the federal vaccination effort that relied on increased outreach to Americans to persuade them to get their shots, to protect them as well as their communities.
“Vaccines can save your own life, but they can also save your grandmother’s life, your co-worker’s life, the grocery store clerk or the delivery person helping you and your neighbors get through the crisis,” Biden said. “That’s why you should get vaccinated.”
Over the past week, the pace of inoculation in the U.S. has slowed slightly. That is partly a reflection of disruptions from the “pause” in administering the Johnson & Johnson shot for a safety review but also of softening interest for vaccines in many places even as eligibility has been opened to all those 16 and older.
As the vaccination program progresses, the administration believes it will only become more difficult to sustain the current pace of about 3 million shots per day. Roughly 130 million Americans have yet to receive one dose.
Surveys have shown that vaccine hesitancy has declined since the rollout of the shots, but administration officials believe they have to make getting vaccinated easier and more appealing, particularly for younger Americans who are less at risk from the virus and do not feel the same urgency to get a shot. That means providing incentives and encouragement to get vaccinated, as well as reducing the friction surrounding the vaccination process.
Vaccine hunters are the unofficial heroes of the coronavirus age. Wielding smartphones and tablets, PCs and Macs, these internet wranglers blast through barriers that stand between loved ones’ arms and COVID vaccines.
Biden announced a tax credit for small businesses to provide paid leave for those getting vaccinated or potentially needing to take time off to recover from side effects. Paid for through the $1.9-trillion virus relief package passed last month, the tax change would provide a credit of up to $511 per day per employee for businesses with fewer than 500 workers.
The White House is urging larger employers, which have more resources, to provide the same benefits to their workers and to educate them about the shots and encourage them to get vaccinated.
“We’re calling on every employer, large and small, in every state: Give employees the time off they need with pay to get vaccinated,” Biden said.
According to the White House, just 43% of working adults have received at least one shot.
With so many Americans becoming immunized, it’s natural to look ahead and wonder how long this protection will last. The answer: No one knows.
As Biden celebrated the vaccine milestone, some states reported a falloff in demand:
• In Iowa, nearly half of the counties were not accepting new doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the state’s allotment because demand had fallen off.
• In Florida, Palm Beach County planned to close mass vaccination clinics at the end of May, with thousands of available vaccine appointments unclaimed.
• In rural West Virginia, a vaccine clinic at a casino-racetrack parking garage was opening shots to out-of-state residents to address lagging demand. The hope is that people from Washington, D.C., make the hour’s drive to get vaccinated.
• In Arizona, a plan collapsed that would have opened a federally run vaccine site in Tucson; demand was slipping and county officials preferred more targeted, mobile locations.
Asked about the dip in vaccinations, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said that “fluctuation is not uncommon” and that “what we want to do is continue to encourage Americans to continue to get vaccinated.”
“The pace of vaccination isn’t linear,” Becerra said, adding, “We are on a pretty good pace.”
California’s latest seven-day new case rate — 40.3 per 100,000 people — is dramatically lower than the nationwide rate of 135.3 over that same time period.
Through its partnership with more than 40,000 retail pharmacies, the White House says more than 90% of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site. The administration is encouraging state and local efforts to bring vaccines directly to people, whether through initiatives reaching homebound Americans or clinics at large employment sites.
Many states have also begun to open up vaccination sites to walk-in appointments, reducing reliance on often cumbersome reservation systems.
Maximizing the number of Americans vaccinated in the coming months is critical for the White House, which is aiming to restore a semblance of normality around the Fourth of July holiday and even more so by the beginning of the next school year.
Administration officials have been careful to avoid predicting when the country will have vaccinated enough people to reach herd immunity — when enough people become immune to a disease that it effectively runs out of places to spread. The U.S. is on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult by the end of May and for every American by July, but administering the shots will be another matter.
We seem to be on the cusp of returning to normal life, but for many people, transitioning back to Before Times is proving to be a lot more fraught than we expected.
With the U.S. stockpile secure and demand dropping at home, the president spoke again of sharing excess doses with allies.
Biden said he talked with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for about 30 minutes on Wednesday. “We helped a little bit there; we’re going to try to help some more,” Biden said, referring to his decision last month to share about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada. “But there’s other countries as well that I’m confident we can help, including in Central America. But it’s in process.”
He added: “We don’t have enough to be confident to send it abroad now. But I expect we’re going to be able to do that.”
Biden set his goal of 200 million shots last month after meeting his 100-million-in-100-days goal just over a month ago. That original benchmark was announced Dec. 8, days before the U.S. had even one authorized vaccine, let alone the three that have now received emergency authorization. Still, it was generally seen within reach, if optimistic.
By the time Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, the U.S. had already administered 20 million shots at a rate of about 1 million per day, bringing complaints at the time that Biden’s goal was not ambitious enough. Biden quickly revised it upward to 150 million doses in his first 100 days.
Associated Press writers Matthew Perrone and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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