WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Thursday again stressed the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, saying that the number of unvaccinated Americans remains "unacceptably high" amid measured progress in the vaccination rate in recent weeks.
Biden said America’s vaccination rate has improved since the authorization of Pfizer boosters and sweeping requirements for employers.
"Daily cases are down 47 percent. Hospitalizations are down 38 percent over the past six weeks. Over the past two weeks, most of the country has improved as well," Biden said. "Case rates are declining in 39 states and hospital rates declining in 38 states. We're down to 66 million: Still unacceptably high number of unvaccinated people from almost 100 million in July."
"The plan I laid out in September is working," Biden said. "We’re headed in the right direction. We have critical work to do but we can’t let up now."
Nearly 188 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, or 56.6% of the total U.S. population, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those currently eligible to receive a vaccine, the figure increases to 66.2%. Of those 65 and older, 84.1% are fully vaccinated and 12.3% in this group have received a booster shot.
After lagging in the summer, U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks.
The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates. Last month, Biden announced sweeping new requirements that employers with more than 100 workers mandate vaccines or test for the virus on a weekly basis. The president also sharply criticized the roughly 80 million Americans who had yet to get vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.
"We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," Biden said from the White House on Sept. 9. The unvaccinated minority "can cause a lot of damage, and they are."
FILE - President Joe Biden signs the Debarment Enforcement of Bad Actor Registrants, or DEBAR Act of 2021, Friday, August 6, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
On Tuesday, the U.S. seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases was 86,181, according to the CDC. That figure is far lower than the peak of nearly 230,000 average new cases per day in early January but still higher than average new cases in June — which dipped to around 11,500.
The president’s remarks come as an independent advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration meets to review data and vote on whether the millions of Americans who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines should get a booster shot.
Health authorities say all the vaccines used in the U.S. continue to provide strong protection against severe disease or death from COVID-19. But amid signs that protection against milder infections may be waning, the government already has cleared booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine for certain people starting at six months after their last shot. Those eligible include people who are immunocompromised, Americans 65 and up, and other groups with heightened vulnerability to COVID-19.
The question of if — and when — the millions of Americans who rolled up their sleeves for the other two vaccines has remained.
"If they authorize the boosters — which will be strictly made based on the science, that decision will be based on the science — this will mean all three vaccines will be available for boosters," Biden said Thursday.
The president also acknowledged parents who are eagerly waiting for Pfizer’s vaccine to become authorized for children between the ages of 5 and 11. The good news, Biden said, is the FDA and outside experts with the CDC are expected to make that determination in the coming weeks.
"If authorized, we are ready," Biden stressed "We have purchased enough vaccines for all children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States. And it’ll be convenient for parents to get their children vaccinated in trusted locations and families will be able to sleep easier at night knowing their kids are protected as well."
Meanwhile, the U.S. also announced Wednesday that it will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the pandemic as the country moves to require all international visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. The new rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel starting in early November when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel into the country.
By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., like truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati.