Hearing the press briefing given by the White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials on June 22, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that the team had "succeeded beyond [their] highest expectations," but the truth is that the White House is about to miss several of the vaccination goals they set back in January.
Based on the Administration's promises, there's no denying that the vaccination rollout has still been mostly successful. As the team repeatedly stated, 70% of adults over 30 have already received one shot.
However, the Administration's commitment was to have all adults 18-years-old and above receive at least one shot by the 4th of July. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of the day after the briefing, 65.6% of all adults 18 and older had received at least one vaccination shot.
While that 65.6% is certainly closer to 70% than not, it's also increasing incredibly slowly: in the week and a half between June 23 and the 4th, that figure is expected to increase just 1.5%.
The briefing's statement that 70% of adults 30 and over have received at least one shot is also misleading. On the same day as the press briefing, only 62.4% of adults ages 40-49 (middle-aged adults) and 52.8% of those ages 25-39 (millennials) had received their first shot.
Instead of focusing on the low rates in these groups, the Administration tactfully framed the current vaccination rates based on a 30-year-old threshold, resulting in their 70% rate. By separating young adults from the data, the Administration can not only create a group that reaches that 70%, but also a reasonable-sounding explanation for the failure.
As the team acknowledged in their briefing, the reason for the disappointing rates amongst those 18- to 26-years-old is well known: young adults simply don't appear to feel like the coronavirus is "something that impacts them," However, the team didn't give explanations for the dismal rates amongst middle-aged adults and millennials.
Officials speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity listed two other reasons that the Administration may be falling behind its goals.
First, officials argue that the goal was overly ambitious. According to the AP, two officials separately said that while a 65% goal would be more realistic, the 70% figure is closer to the estimated rates needed for herd immunity. Reportedly, the idea was to increase the sense of urgency surrounding getting the vaccine.
Unfortunately, given the fact that the second reason for failure was reportedly a decline in that sense of urgency, that effort seems to have been ineffective. After an initial surge of vaccinations, numbers began to fall. The White House had reportedly planned for this sort of drop-off in vaccination rates, but not a drop-off this steep.
According to the officials, part of the reason for this sharp decline may be the sharp drop in COVID-19 deaths: fewer cases means fewer motivators to get the shot.
However, in reality, getting vaccinated seems to be just as urgent as ever. The Delta variant of the coronavirus that has been devastating the rest of the world is also hitting young Americans. This variant is characterized not only by increased virality but also increased likelihood of hospitalization. This means that it currently seems to be both easier to spread and more dangerous.
Unfortunately, a big portion of unvaccinated Americans simply won't be convinced by this Administration's efforts, even if they include news of a dangerous new variant. As one GOP official described the White House's work, "I think they did as good a job as they could have done."
"The hesitation among younger Americans and among Trump voters has been too hard to overcome," GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who has worked to promote the vaccine effort with the White House as well as outside groups, told the AP. "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."
Some proof for Luntz's argument can be seen in the regions where vaccine rates are the lowest. Deep red Missouri which former President Donald Trump won by over 15% in 2020, has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just 13% of adults in one county having received their first shots.