The logic of Biden’s new July 4 vaccination goal

People ride bicycles in Times Square in New York City during the pandemic on May 7, 2020. | Noam Galai/Getty ImagesBiden’s new goal acknowledges how close America is to potentially getting Covid-19 under control. President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled a new Covid-19 vaccine goal: 70 percent of US adults getting at least one shot by July 4. With this, the Biden administration expects the country will be able to move much closer to the pre-pandemic normal than it has over the past year. It’s a shift for the administration. When America’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout began, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said that the herd immunity threshold for the coronavirus could be 80 to 90 percent — suggesting as much as 90 percent of the country would need to get vaccinated to return to normal. But since then, Fauci has argued against focusing too much on herd immunity, saying the actual threshold for it is “elusive.” Instead, the administration seems more focused on the real-world data showing the effectiveness of the vaccines. That begins with Israel: With about 60 percent of its population now vaccinated with at least one dose, Israel has managed to almost completely reopen its economy and crush the number of coronavirus cases and deaths to nearly zero. Israel still has some restrictions in place — particularly indoor masking and vaccine passport requirements — but it’s much closer to normal than it could afford to be, with any guarantee of safety, just months ago. As Fauci has said, we still don’t know with certainty what the herd immunity threshold is. Some experts said it could be as low as 60 percent. But Israel’s data suggests that we could get our lives much closer to normal without worrying about the risk of deadly infection — at much less than 80 to 90 percent vaccination rates. It’s a sign that there’s a fairly safe gray area — an endgame to Covid-19, of sorts — between lockdowns and the pre-pandemic normal, after a year in which trying to find that balance in the US sparked wave after wave of Covid-19. Given this data, the Biden administration has aimed for a July 4 goal of 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated. That’s roughly equivalent, given that kids under 16 can’t get the shot yet, to 60 percent of the country getting at least one dose. The best news for Americans: This is very much possible. Already, more than 40 percent of the population has gotten at least one dose, and more than 30 percent are fully vaccinated, based on federal data. At current vaccination rates, the US could hit 60 percent partial vaccination as soon as this month or June, and 60 percent full vaccination in June or July — all within three months. Already, daily new Covid-19 cases in the US have dropped by about 26 percent in the last two weeks. There’s still a lot we don’t know. Hitting 60 percent might allow for infection control without being true herd immunity, when the virus can no longer circulate widely. Either way, getting the vaccination rate higher than 60 percent would still help ensure the coronavirus doesn’t come back — especially if variants, changes in the weather and seasons, or state-by-state variation in vaccination rates can let the virus break through our defenses. So until we know for sure it’s safe, it’s a good idea to continue to be cautious in some ways, including wearing masks and limiting some activities to vaccinated people. Still, Israel shows that we might be able to resume our lives much closer to normal — enjoying everything from restaurants to live music and sports — long before we vaccinate 90 percent of the country (if we can even do that). As University of Florida biostatistician Natalie Dean told me, Israel’s data “bodes well for what we can do in the US. Maybe we can get really far, off of 60 percent of people being vaccinated.” What Israel tells us about the inflection point Compared to the rest of the world, Israel’s current experience can look almost like another planet. Writing in the New York Times, Isabel Kershner detailed the normalcy Israelis now find themselves in as they get “a taste of a post-pandemic future.” People are dining out, going to packed concerts, and attending sports events — often without masking and with little to no physical distancing. Part of the story here is that Israel still has some precautions in place, particularly masking and capacity requirements for indoor venues. The country has also embraced widespread use of “Green Passes,” in which proof of vaccination, past Covid-19 infection, or a negative coronavirus test becomes a ticket for some of the riskier activities, although enforcement is reportedly spotty. But the big element seems to be Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign. Israel had tried reopening before, only to see some of the world’s biggest surges of the coronavirus last summer and then winter. When Israel moved to nearly fully reopen in March, it still had a lot of daily new Covid-19 cases — more than twice as ma

May 4, 2021 - VOX
People ride bicycles in Times Square in New York City during the pandemic on May 7, 2020. | Noam Galai/Getty ImagesBiden’s new goal acknowledges how close America is to potentially getting Covid-19 under control. President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled a new Covid-19 vaccine goal: 70 percent of US adults getting at least one shot by July 4. With this, the Biden administration expects the country will be able to move much closer to the pre-pandemic normal than it has over the past year. It’s a shift..