President Biden on Tuesday said Lyft and UBER will offer free rides to people looking to get vaccinated as the administration pushes to get at least one COVID-19 shot in 70% of U.S. adults by July 4.
The feature will launch within the next two weeks and run through Independence Day, the holiday that Mr. Biden pinpointed as the gateway to normalcy after a devastating pandemic.
“People will be able to simply select a vaccination site near them, follow simple directions to redeem their ride, and then get a ride to take them to and from a nearby vaccination site free of charge,” a White House fact sheet says.
Mr. Biden, who is meeting with six governors Tuesday to discuss the vaccine rollout, also plans to outline efforts to offer vaccines at high-enrollment community colleges and opportunities to use funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support vaccine outreach through community and faith-based organizations.
Nearly half of the U.S. population — 46% — has received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and over a third is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over 58% of the population over age 18 has received at least one dose of a vaccine, though states say demand is beginning to stall as Mr. Biden pursues his adult-vaccination goal of 70% by early July.
Federal health officials want people of all ages to get the vaccine. People age 12 and older are eligible after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech version for adolescents.
CDC Rochelle Walensky urged parents to get their children vaccinated, highlighting the proven benefits of the shots so far. She said daily average hospitalizations and deaths have decreased over 70% since January, as the rollout widened.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” she told the Senate Health Committee Tuesday. “However globally, the pandemic is now more severe than ever.”
U.S. officials are worried that variants pinging around the world could set the U.S. effort back.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday said a variant found in India, the B.1.617, is of concern because it is more transmissible but there is no data yet on whether it blunts the impact of treatments or vaccines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said real-world data from Israel and Qatar show messenger-RNA vaccines that are commonly available in the U.S. are living up to the efficacy ratings demonstrated in clinical trials. They are also performing well against a particularly aggressive variant that’s prevalent in South Africa.
“I feel confident that if we continue to vaccinate people at the rate we are doing, that we will very soon have a situation where we will have so few infections in this country we will begin to return to [the] normality that all of us desire so much,” Dr. Fauci said.
The U.S. is under pressure to share its vaccine largesse with the rest of the world, as some countries struggle to get their rollouts moving.
Administration officials said the FDA is working to make sure up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine meet U.S. standards before shipping them to global partners.
Part of the hold-up has to do with clearing up issues at the Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore that had a mix-up between the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, according to Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
The mistake prompted the U.S. government to move the AstraZeneca version out of the facility.
“We are working on that as quickly as we can. We understand the imperative here,” Dr. Marks said. “I can’t give you an exact time.”
Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, pressed the U.S. to get moving on donations as he criticized the administration’s support for waiving COVID-19 patents, saying it will undermine future cures and that western allies are skeptical of the idea.
Mr. Burr urged top health officials to be the “adults in the room” and block the transfer of intellectual property. If intellectual property rights don’t remain in place then society won’t have vaccines for the next pandemic, according to the senator.
“It’s that simple,” he said.
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