US launches vaccine website and text message campaign to boost access

Joe Biden’s administration has launched a website and text message campaign and directed thousands of pharmacies to allow walk-in appointments in an effort to boost Covid-19 vaccinations as the pace begins to slow after an initial surge of more than 200 million shots.

The latest strategy is part of an effort to vaccinate 70 per cent of adult Americans by July 4. More than 105 million people are fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 56 per cent of the nation’s adult population – more than 147 million people – have received at least one shot.

Mr Biden has called for 160 million adults to be fully vaccinated by the Fourth of July, his benchmark date for the nation’s turning point more than a year from the onset of the pandemic.

The new website – vaccines.gov – directs users to enter their ZIP code and see a list of nearby locations where they can receive their free vaccine doses.

By texting their ZIP code to 438829, people will receive a similar list of nearby vaccine locations.

A majority of the nation’s 40,000 retail pharmacies that have partnered with the federal government to distribute vaccines will also begin offering vaccines on a walk-in basis starting this week.

By mid-April, as states began to expand vaccine eligibility, vaccination rates began to level off, from a high of 4m doses administered in a single day to a current seven-day average of 2.4m daily doses.

The administration’s latest maneuvers move away from mass vaccination sites to a larger focus on community health centres, mobile clinics and hospitals in rural areas.

Mr Biden also announced on Tuesday that the government is changing how it distributes vaccines to states by prioritising states with more demand over those where demand was gone down.

Asked whether he anticipates the coming months after his first 100 days in office to be more challenging to address the public health crisis, he said there will still be vaccine skeptics, but “at the end of the day, most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get a vaccine may cause other people to be sick and die.”

“There is more we can do,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “One of the things we can do is we can continue to provide more of the vaccine and work harder to get it available to more people.”

Health experts including Dr Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, have doubted the nation’s ability to reach a threshold for “herd immunity”, the point at which enough people have an immune response to the virus to prevent spreading it to others.

Health officials told The New York Times that the unlikelihood of totally eliminating the virus underscores a public and government urgency to vaccinate widely, and to combat the root causes of hesitancy – including fear and distrust – while expanding access to vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities.

The government must also work to limit the rates of severe infections leading to hospitalisations and deaths as pandemic-related restrictions are relaxed despite the imbalance of vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans, they found.

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