In Raleigh, President Biden encourages vaccinations, warns about Delta variant

Thursday, June 24, 2021
President Biden visits Raleigh to encourage vaccinations
President Biden visits Raleigh to encourage vaccinationsHe used the Fourth of July to motivate unvaccinated people to get their shots.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- President Joe Biden spoke in Raleigh on Thursday, at a campaign-like event, encouraging North Carolinians and Americans to get vaccinated.

He also warned about the danger of the Delta COVID-19 variant.

The president arrived in North Carolina just about 15 minutes later than expected Thursday afternoon.

He was slightly delayed after speaking around 2 p.m. about a new bipartisan infrastructure deal.

His first stop was at the mobile vaccination united located at Green Road Community Center. There he met with frontline workers and volunteers helping to get people vaccinated.

He was also joined by Governor Roy Cooper.

Around 5:30 p.m. he addressed the country, encouraging vaccinations as the Delta variant spreads. He touted the United states' successes vaccinating people so far but largely brushed over the country missing his goal of a 70% partial-vaccination rate by July 4th.

"This new, dangerous variant continues to emerge," he said. "It's now the most common variant in America and here (in North Carolina). And unvaccinated people are incredibly vulnerable."

He used the Fourth of July to motivate unvaccinated people to get their shots.

"Folks, let's really let this be the summer of joy and freedom," he said. "Let it really happen. Let's celebrate the Fourth of July with the independence from the virus."

Biden said the vaccine is the best way to fight COVID-19.

"If you're not vaccinated, don't put it off any longer," he said. "Just do it."

"Science is clear," he said. "The best way to protect yourself against the virus, and the variants is to be fully vaccinated. It works. It's free. It's safe. It's easy. It's convenient."

"If you're not vaccinated, don't put it off any longer," he said. "Just do it."

Ive Jones, a Princeton student and Apex Friendship High School graduate, introduced Biden at the event. Earlier this month, she partnered with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to hand out masks, sunglasses and COVID-19 vaccine information at Durham's McDougald Terrace community.

'I could not have expected this in a million years': Wake teen to open for Biden during NC visit

A Wake County native will deliver a speech alongside Governor Cooper on Thursday during President Biden's visit to North Carolina to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

In North Carolina, just 55% of adults are at least partially vaccinated. However, 82% of people 65 and older and at least partially vaccinated.

Wake County says 70% of its adults have had at least one dose.

Republicans, who noted the vaccination efforts were developed and initiated under former President Trump's administration, disagreed.

"This is not a victory lap for President Biden," said Cassie Smedile, executive director of the America Rising PAC and a former RNC spokesperson. "This is a hat's off to the hardworking North Carolinians who have worked to get their businesses open and get their state back on track and in many ways have done it despite that there's been such a heavy-handed approach from the federal government."

Nonetheless, the White House says it's not letting up on its vaccination efforts. The White House is continuing to roll out increasingly localized programs to encourage specific communities to get vaccinated.

A drop-off in vaccination rates was always expected by the White House, but not as sharp as has proved to be the case. The scale of American reluctance to get vaccinated remains a source of global curiosity, particularly as many nations are still scrambling for doses to protect their most vulnerable populations.

When the 70% goal was first announced by Biden seven weeks ago, on average more than 800,000 Americans were getting their first vaccine dose each day - down from a high of nearly 2 million per day in early April. Now that figure is below 300,000.

Paradoxically, officials believe the strong response to the early vaccination campaign has served to reduce motivation to get a shot for some. One of the most potent motivators for people to get vaccinated was the high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Now that those figures have dropped to levels not seen since the onset of the pandemic, officials say it's become harder to convince Americans of the urgency to get a shot - particularly for younger populations that already knew they were at low risk of serious complications from the virus.

Separately, two officials involved in the crafting of the 70% goal said officials knew 65% would have been a safer bet, but they said the White House wanted to reach for a figure closer to experts' projections of what would be needed for herd immunity to bring down cases and deaths. Aiming for the higher target, the officials said, was seen as adding to the urgency of the campaign and probably increased the vaccination rate above where it would have been with a more modest goal.

Other officials said the White House, which has always cast the vaccination campaign as "hard," nevertheless failed to grasp the resistance of some Americans to getting a shot when it set the 70% goal.

"The hesitation among younger Americans and among Trump voters has been too hard to overcome," said GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who has worked with the White House and outside groups to promote vaccinations. "They think they are making a statement by refusing to be vaccinated. For Trump voters, it's a political statement. For younger adults, it's about telling the world that they are immune."

Of the White House, Luntz said, "I think they did as good a job as they could have done."

The White House points to all that the nation has achieved to play down the significance of the goals it will miss.

Back in March, Biden projected a July Fourth holiday during which Americans would be able to safely gather in small groups for outdoor barbecues - a milestone reached by the U.S. months ago. Nearly all states have lifted their virus restrictions, businesses and schools are open and large gatherings are resuming nationwide.

"The most important metric at the end of the day is: What are we able to do in our lives? How much of 'normal' have we been able to recapture?" said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. "And I think what we are seeing now is that we have exceeded our expectations."

The White House also has taken to crunching the vaccination numbers in new ways to put a positive spin on the situation. On Tuesday, the administration announced that 70% of adults 30 and over have been vaccinated - removing the most hesitant population from its denominator. But even that statistic glosses over lower vaccination rates among middle-aged adults (62.4% for those aged 40-49) and millennials (52.8% for those aged 25-39).

The administration's predicament is all the more notable given what had been an unbroken streak of fulfilled vaccination goals. Before taking office, Biden in December pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his presidency - a rate that the U.S. was exceeding by the time he was sworn in. Within days he suggested a goal of 150 million and ultimately easily met a revised goal of 200 million shots in the first 100 days.

Biden's 70% goal also was achievable, officials say - if in retrospect too ambitious - but critically relied less on the government's ability to procure shots and build capacity to inject them and more on individuals' willingness to get vaccinated.

"We did that as a team, relying very heavily or exclusively on the docs and scientists," White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Tuesday on how the targets were selected.

More significant that the 70% statistic, officials said, is the vast regional disparities in vaccination, with a state like Vermont vaccinating more than 80% of its population while some in the South and West are below 50%. Within states, there's even greater variation. In Missouri, some southern and northern counties are well short of 40% and one county is at just 13%.

With the delta variant first identified in India taking hold in the U.S., officials say the next vaccination boost may not come from incentives like lotteries or giveaways, but out of renewed fears of preventable illness and death. Other officials project a significant increase in vaccine uptake once the shots, which have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, receive final approval from the agency.

Heading into the end of the month another Biden goal also was in doubt.

The president last month set a target of shipping 80 million COVID-19 excess vaccine doses overseas by the end of June. U.S. officials say the doses are ready to go, but that regulatory and legal roadblocks in recipient countries are slowing deliveries beyond what was expected.

About 10 million have been shipped so far, including 3 million sent Wednesday to Brazil. Shipments are expected to pick up in the final days of the month, but meeting the goal by June 30 appears unlikely.

It takes time to share a lifesaving and delicate vaccine, one White House official said, but the administration expects to share "every single drop" of the promised doses.

ABC News contributed.