Biden Makes New Push for Vaccinations, but Experts Say More Is Needed

Some public health experts worry that the administration is not being aggressive enough in waging what the president calls a “wartime effort” to vaccinate the country.

By Michael D. Shear and Noah Weiland

WASHINGTON — Faced with a steep decline in vaccination rates, President Biden said on Tuesday that his administration would send people door to door, set up clinics at workplaces and urge employers to offer paid time off as part of a renewed push to reach tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans.

But top health experts say that it is simply not enough, and that the president needs to take the potentially unpopular step of encouraging states, employers and colleges and universities to require vaccinations to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Instead, in a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Biden doubled down on coaxing people to get vaccinated, a voluntary approach that appears to have hit its limit for a large number of Americans who say they have no intention of taking the shot.

“Please get vaccinated now. It works. It’s free,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks at the White House. “It’s never been easier, and it’s never been more important. Do it now for yourself and the people you care about, for your neighborhood, for your country. It sounds corny, but it’s a patriotic thing to do.”

Case numbers have gone up in parts of the country where vaccination rates remain low, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. That has some public health officials worried that the administration is not being aggressive enough in waging what the president calls a “wartime effort” to ensure that the population of the United States is protected.

“I’m trying to restrain myself, but I’ve kind of had it,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who was the health secretary for five years under President Barack Obama. Schools and businesses should be encouraged to require the vaccine, she said.

“You know, we’re going to tiptoe around mandates,” she said. “It’s like, come on. I’m kind of over that. I want to make sure that people I deal with don’t have it so I don’t transmit it to my granddaughter.”

But Mr. Biden’s options to be more aggressive are limited.

As president, he can mandate that members of the military get the vaccine — a step that his administration has declined to take, in part because the drugs are still considered experimental under the emergency authorizations that the Food and Drug Administration granted last year.

The Biden administration considered and rejected calls to require a federal vaccine passport, a move that some experts said would help contain the spread of the virus by allowing people to prove that they have been inoculated. And the administration last month issued guidance to federal agencies saying they should not require employees to be vaccinated.

For the most part, the power lies in the hands of states, employers or private institutions.

Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a professor of bioethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said the United States was unlikely to make significant strides in its vaccination campaign without mandates.

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