Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Joe Biden said his administration would administer 200 million vaccines by April 30.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

Joe Biden held his first presidential news conference this afternoon and announced a new goal: His administration would administer 200 million vaccines within his first 100 days in office, or April 30, double his initial goal.

“I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has even come close,” Mr. Biden said.

The new goal was not all that aspirational: The U.S. is already on track to meet that target. The country has administered 130 million total doses and is averaging about 2.5 million doses per day. If that pace continues, about half of the nation’s population would have at least one dose by mid-May.

Throughout the U.S. rollout, there has been moralizing and hand-wringing about people jumping the line or finding loopholes in the country’s ad hoc vaccine distribution systems. But it’s possible that the alternative — a rigid, bureaucratic system — may actually cost more lives.

In the European Union, bureaucratic inertia, a diffusion of responsibility and logistical problems have all undercut vaccination efforts. In Italy, it’s the older population that bears the brunt.

Some experts argue that Italy’s strategy of first vaccinating only health care workers resulted in a bottleneck, leaving older and more vulnerable people still largely unvaccinated. That constituted a lethal failure in a country that has the oldest population in Europe.

Italy’s version of the Food and Drug Administration, in an overabundance of caution, also limited the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to those between 18 and 55 because of questions about how well it worked for older people. As a result, teachers, lawyers, prosecutors and hospital administrative staff members have been vaccinated, even as many more vulnerable Italians desperately wait for inoculations.

Recognizing the problem, Italy’s prime minister recently called for “less formal requirements and more pragmatism,” and has struck deals that mobilized dentists and thousands of pharmacists to administer vaccines.

Businesses across the United States and beyond are offering free merchandise and other incentives to people who receive Covid shots.

Experts in behavioral motivation say that offering incentives is not necessarily the most effective or cost-efficient way to increase vaccine uptake. But it can’t hurt — right? The perks on offer include:

  • A rolled joint (for anyone 21 and over) from Greenhouse of Walled Lake, a medical marijuana dispensary in Michigan.

  • Five dollars in free tokens from Up-Down, a chain of bars in the Midwest featuring vintage arcade games. The promotion is called “Tokens for Poke’ns.”

  • Other incentives target people in vulnerable groups. Uber, for instance, has agreed to provide 10 million free or discounted rides to seniors, essential workers and others in countries across North America, Europe and Asia to help them get to vaccination centers.

Experts say policymakers should proceed with caution on incentives because they can backfire. Campaigns can be expensive, and incentives could signal to some people that vaccines are riskier than they actually are.

  • California will open up vaccine eligibility on April 1 to any resident who is 50 or older, and will expand that to residents 16 or older on April 15. Florida will lower its minimum age for vaccination to 40 starting Monday, and to 18 in early April.

  • Denmark will hold off using the AstraZeneca vaccine a while longer, but Sweden will start giving it again.

  • India, a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses it makes each day. Fewer than 4 percent of its 1.4 billion people are vaccinated.

  • New York City plans a vaccination site just for Broadway theater workers.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

I am 14 years old, so I am not eligible for any of the vaccines. But my school district is reopening next month (yay!). But I have medical conditions, so I will still be doing online school (boo). I entered high school in 2020, turned 14, took my first AP courses, became vegan, broke four toes, lost an uncle to Covid-19, and lost a lot of academic opportunities (MathCounts, Science Olympiad, Quiz Bowl, etc.). Really, I don’t feel like I know what normal is anymore. Maybe we’ll end up ok? But I seriously doubt that most of my generation (gen Z) will be “normal” after this.

— Ishani, U.S.

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Jonathan Wolfe