President Joe Biden said on Thursday he would direct U.S. states to make all adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine by May 1 and urged Americans in a televised address to stay vigilant against the virus, hours after he signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law.
In a forceful but somber speech from the White House on the first anniversary of the pandemic lockdown -- the first such prime-time address of his presidency -- Biden said he was working to speed COVID-19 vaccinations to create a greater sense of normalcy in the country by the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
That date is a new goal for the president, who has warned Americans that further pain and death were still to come from the virus that has killed more than 530,000 people in the United States, the most of any country. Coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions have cost millions of jobs.
In a recounting of the grim toll the pandemic has taken on the nation, Biden said: "Photos and videos from 2019 feel like they were taken in another era. The last vacation. The last birthday with friends. The last holiday with extended family.
"While it was different for everyone, we all lost something," he said, noting that the virus was met with "denials for days, then weeks, then months, that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, more loneliness."
But as the financial stimulus from the newly enacted relief bill reaches a growing number of vaccinated people, Biden offered cautious optimism to a country that, like the rest of the world, is tired of pandemic restrictions and economic pain.
Biden said he was ordering U.S. states, territories and tribes to make all adults eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine by May 1. The White House has said it would have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate the population by the end of May. About 10% of Americans have so far been fully vaccinated.
The president also said more U.S. troops would help in the vaccination effort, adding that families and friends should be able to gather again in small groups by July 4, a holiday that many Americans celebrate with outdoor parties, hot dogs and fireworks.
The White House is also seeking to expand the pool of people able to administer shots to include dentists, optometrists, paramedics, veterinarians and medical students.
Biden campaigned last year on a promise that he would tackle the pandemic more effectively than Republican President Donald Trump, and he has sought to encourage and model behavior, such as mask-wearing, that Trump eschewed.
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