President Joe Biden said Monday that 60% of Americans are set to have received at least one shot of their COVID-19 vaccine dose this week.
The milestone comes as COVID-19 deaths in the country have hit their lowest level in 10 months (https://www.fox26houston.com/news/us-covid-19-deaths-hit-lowest-level-in-10-months) and as the country inches closer to Biden’s target of 70% of American adults to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 160 million fully vaccinated, by the Fourth of July.
Biden also announced that the United States will share an additional 20 million vaccine doses with the world in the next six weeks. The additional doses would come from existing U.S. production of Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine stocks as they become available, he said.
The announcement comes on top of the Biden's administration’s prior commitment to share about 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of June, making a total of 80 million doses to be shared. Biden said this amount represents 13% of all the COVID-19 vaccines produced in the United States and that it's more than any other country has shared to date.
"We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home and to do the right thing of helping other people. It’s the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do; it’s the strong thing to do," he said.
"We have secured enough supply for all eligible Americans - all Americans 12 years old and older - and we still have work to do, though. Hard work. But because we have done so much here ... we can continue to do more to help the rest of the world," he continued.
The Biden administration has yet to announce how they will be shared or which countries will receive them.
His remarks also come amid mounting confusion and division in the country after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suddenly rolled back its face mask guidance last week for those who are fully vaccinated.
Under the new guidelines, fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — can quit wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings and give up social distancing. But many vaccinated Americans aren’t ready to ditch their mask just yet.
With COVID-19 cases on the decline after more than 580,000 deaths and with more than a third of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, millions are deciding whether to continue wearing face masks.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program as Vice President Kamala Harris listens in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The sudden change sparked praise from those eager to return to pre-pandemic life, particularly those who see the new guidelines as a way to reopen workplaces, schools and other venues that went dark during the pandemic.
Yet concerns have been raised from those who say businesses and others can’t easily determine who is fully vaccinated and who is not. Instead, many will have to rely on an honor system.
Many corporations have already said they will not require fully vaccinated customers to wear masks inside their businesses but will not ask for proof of vaccination.
Biden acknowledged Monday that some vaccinated Americans may continue to choose to wear masks.
"Some people may want to continue to wear masks, even if they’re fully vaccinated. That’s a decision they can make," he said. "Some businesses may want to continue to require wearing masks. Let’s all be kind and respectful to one another as we come out of this pandemic and respect those who want to continue wearing masks."
The timing of the change has also faced questions. Just days earlier, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had defended the agency's strict mask guidance in front of a Senate committee where some Republicans on the panel described the CDC's guidance as "unworkable."
When pressed about the quick turnaround on the agency's stance on mask wearing, Walensky said the agency was not giving in to pressure but instead needed time to review evolving science.
Walensky cautioned that even with the new guidelines, it was still too early to "declare victory," but added that she was "cautiously optimistic" about the pandemic.
To date, more than 156 million Americans, or more than 47% of the population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 121 million are fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Biden’s remarks also come on the new deadline for Americans to file their 2020 tax returns.
The Internal Revenue Service delayed the traditional deadline from April 15 until May 17, allowing an extra month for taxpayers and the agency to prepare their filings amid a number of changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, the Treasury Department also announced some 39 million U.S. families with children are set to begin receiving monthly payments in July as part of the expanded child tax credit.
Starting on July 15, qualified families will receive a payment of up to $300 per month for each child under 6 and up to $250 per month for children between the ages of 6 and 17.
The payments are part of Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, called the American Rescue Plan Act, which expanded the child tax credit for one year. It also made it possible to pre-pay the benefits on a monthly basis — rather than through tax refunds.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.