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The Biden Administration Is Taking Its COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign Door-To-Door

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden fell short of his goal of having 70% of adults get their first COVID-19 shot by July Fourth. Today, he announced the next steps in the campaign to get more people vaccinated.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to keep it up, though. We have to keep it up till we're finished.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Why didn't the administration reach its goal, and what is the new target?

KEITH: Well, this is an administration that has made a habit of setting goals. But today there is no new tangible numerical goal, no new target. They are still pushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible. And frankly, they are still trying to reach that goal of 70% of U.S. adults getting their first COVID shot. So why didn't they make it? It wasn't for a lack of trying, and there were no major missteps. But part of it was underestimating how much demand would slow down. There has been an inability to break through with people who continue to have concerns or not trust the vaccines. There is a steady flow of misinformation, and there are significant regional disparities in vaccination rates, with Southern and some Midwestern states just really lagging.

SHAPIRO: So what are the new steps to get more people vaccinated? And how different are they from what the administration's been doing?

KEITH: They're going to wind down - and have been - the mass vaccination sites and focus on places where people can have one-on-one conversations that could possibly break through with people who are hesitant or complacent or may have gotten that misinformation. There will be a renewed emphasis on getting vaccines to primary care providers and pediatricians, partnerships with employers, and an expansion of mobile clinics to connect with people in hard-to-reach communities. Here's how President Biden described this next phase.

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BIDEN: Now we need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood and ofttimes, door to door - literally knocking on doors - to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus.

KEITH: And one initiative they talked about a while back that is getting new emphasis is working with schools and family doctors and pediatricians to make sure that if kids 12 and older are coming in for, like, a back-to-school physical or sports physical, that they are offered a COVID vaccine there as well. And eventually, they do expect the vaccines will get authorization for younger children also.

SHAPIRO: Now, on the topic of schools, some colleges are starting to mandate vaccination for students to return to in-person learning. Where does the White House stand on vaccine mandates?

KEITH: They are proceeding with extreme caution and have made it clear that they don't intend for the federal government to require vaccination. Press secretary Jen Psaki has also made it clear they don't intend to be in the vaccine verification business either. They aren't even talking about checking to see whether travelers from other countries are vaccinated. At this point, they are leaving it to schools and businesses to put mandates in place if they choose. And they are offering to support those entities, if they want, to make it easier for people to gain access to vaccines right there.

SHAPIRO: And where does the more contagious delta variant fit into all of this?

KEITH: The White House is standing by CDC guidance that says if someone is fully vaccinated, they are protected, even against the delta variant. They can go without a mask. They can shake hands, hug, attend concerts, or, in the president's case, a great big Fourth of July barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House. But given that now there are outbreaks happening in areas with low vaccination rates, the White House says the delta variant is just another reason to get vaccinated sooner rather than later because at this point, virtually any death from COVID in the U.S. was preventable.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.