More than 100 million people in the United States have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine jab, the national public health agency reported, as the Biden administration works to speed up vaccinations countrywide.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said more than 101 million jabs had been administered since the country’s inoculation programme began late last year.
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Of those, more than 35 million people – 10.5 percent of the US population – were considered “fully vaccinated”, the CDC said.
The US has registered the highest number of COVID-19 cases and coronavirus-related deaths in the world – at more than 29.3 million infections and over 532,000 deaths – but the number of new infections has slowed nationally.
President Joe Biden promised to take a tougher approach to tackling the pandemic than his predecessor Donald Trump, who critics say minimised the threat of the virus and pledged to administer 100 million COVID-19 jabs in his first 100 days in office.
On Thursday, Biden said all adults would be eligible for a jab by May 1 and that he hoped the country would return to a sense of normalcy by the Independence Day holiday on July 4.
He had previously said the US would have enough vaccine doses to inoculate every adult by the end of that month, as he announced ramped up production of a newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Biden also said he would meet his goal of administering 100 million jabs on his 60th day in office. “No other country in the world has done this. None,” he said.
Public health experts have cautioned, however, that though vaccinations are speeding up people need to maintain physical distancing and follow public health guidelines to minimise any potential spread of the virus.
Their warnings come as several US states, including Texas, have announced plans to reopen businesses and lift mask mandates amid an economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
The Associated Press news agency has reported that as COVID-19 infections decrease nationally, governors in more than half the states have taken some action over the past two weeks to either end or ease restrictions.
Some capacity limits ended on Friday in Maryland and Oklahoma, the news agency said, while Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Wyoming are relaxing restrictions in the coming week.
On Thursday, Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that his administration said would jumpstart the struggling US economy.
The new law provides for the distribution of $1,400 in direct payments to 160 million US citizens, among other provisions. The US Treasury Department was expected to begin sending out those cheques as soon as the weekend.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said in the Oval Office before signing the bill.
Biden’s push to quickly vaccinate Americans also comes as human rights groups are demanding more vaccine equity globally, as richer countries secure millions of doses for their citizens while poorer nations are left behind.
South Africa, India, and more than 100 other countries also called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week to temporarily waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines so that they can inoculate their populations.
In a statement on Thursday, Amnesty International said billions of people are at risk of not receiving a single COVID-19 jab this year.
The group said rich countries have purchased most COVID-19 vaccines despite accounting for only 16 percent of the world’s population. Those same countries also administered 60 percent of the doses so far, while 100 countries have yet to inoculate a single person.
“Who gets access to a COVID-19 vaccine, when, and at what price, are some of the most significant and contested questions facing our societies today. But the answers are being shaped by the interests of powerful states and companies,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economics and social justice.
“So far they’ve created a dangerous situation with global inequalities in vaccine access spiraling out of control. A few rich countries are racing ahead, while the rest of the world struggles to get off the starting line.”