President Biden now says he hopes to administer 1.5 million coronavirus vaccinations a day, a 50 percent increase from his initial target, and he extended and expanded virus-driven travel bans.
WASHINGTON — President Biden, under pressure to speed up the pace of coronavirus vaccination, said on Monday that he was now aiming for the United States to administer 1.5 million vaccine doses a day — a goal that is 50 percent higher than his initial target but one that the nation already appears on track to meet.
The president made his comments just hours after he banned travel by noncitizens into the United States from South Africa because of concern about a coronavirus variant spreading in that country, and moved to extend similar bans imposed by his predecessor on travel from Brazil, Europe and Britain. Those bans were set to expire on Tuesday.
Mr. Biden has vowed to get “100 million Covid-19 shots in the arms of the American people” by his 100th day in office. Because two doses are required, and some Americans have already been vaccinated, his promise would cover about 67 million Americans. To realize it, the United States would have to administer one million shots a day.
The pace of vaccinations is already picking up, and the United States already seems to be vaccinating well over a million people per day, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current average is about 1.2 million over the past six days.
Mr. Biden made his comments days after the United States recorded 25 million total coronavirus cases — a staggering tally that the nation reached Saturday afternoon, according to a Times database. That works out to about one in every 13 people in the country, or about 7.6 percent of the population — a number that experts say is almost surely lower than the true figure. The death toll on Monday topped 420,000 Americans.
The move to increase the daily vaccination target comes as officials in the new Biden administration are trying to get their hands around a fast-changing pandemic, with public health officials racing to vaccinate the public and to expand the supply of vaccine as more contagious variants of the coronavirus spread.
The variant that is now spreading in South Africa has not yet reached the United States. But on Monday, Minnesota’s Health Department said that a case of a variant from Brazil had been found in the state. Health officials also announced that a case of the variant found in South Africa had been recorded in New Zealand in a returned traveler who had been released from hotel quarantine after twice testing negative. Over two dozen countries have now reported cases of the variant.
On Monday, Moderna said its vaccine is effective against new variants that have emerged in Britain and South Africa. But the immune response is slightly weaker against the variant discovered in South Africa, so the company is developing a new form of the vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against that virus.
And Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new C.D.C. director, offered a blunt assessment of the vaccination campaign on Sunday, predicting that supply would not increase until late March.
Federal health officials and corporate executives agree that it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April because of lack of manufacturing capacity. A third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, is expected to report the results of its clinical trial soon. If approved, that vaccine would also help shore up production eventually, though the company has manufacturing issues of its own.
“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you then I can’t tell it to the governors and I can’t tell it to the state health officials,” Dr. Walensky told “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Biden’s travel ban is a presidential proclamation, not an executive order. Typically, proclamations govern the acts of individuals, while executive orders are directives to federal agencies. It will go into effect on Saturday and apply to non-U.S. citizens who have spent time in South Africa in the past 14 days. The new policy, which was reported earlier by Reuters, will not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents, officials said.
The airline industry had no immediate comment on the new travel bans. But airline officials point to studies by the World Health Organization showing that the impact of travel bans on curbing the spread of infectious disease is limited. President Donald J. Trump came under intense criticism after he banned travel from China, and the ban proved porous as tens of thousands of people still came into the United States from that country.
“I think of travel bans as helpful but hardly foolproof,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Mr. Trump’s China travel ban “probably slowed things down, and that’s reasonable,” he said. But travel bans need to be coupled with other policies to be useful, he said.
Mr. Biden’s travel restrictions are part of a 200-page national strategy he released last week aimed at ramping up the federal government’s involvement in the pandemic response. He also issued an executive order last week requiring that all international travelers present negative coronavirus tests before leaving for the United States.
The move extended a C.D.C. requirement for the tests that was issued by the Trump administration but set to expire on Tuesday. The industry has been pushing for waivers from the C.D.C.’s policy in countries where testing is not widely available. But a Biden administration official said on Sunday that such waivers would not be granted.
Last week, Mr. Trump tried to eliminate the Covid-19-related ban on travel from Britain, Ireland, 26 countries in Europe and Brazil, saying it was no longer necessary. Jen Psaki, now the White House press secretary, said at the time that ending the ban was the wrong thing to do. On Monday, she announced during her regular briefing that it would remain intact.
Ms. Psaki also said the Biden administration intended to hold regular public health briefings three times a week, beginning Wednesday. She said Mr. Biden would be “briefed regularly” on the pandemic, adding, “I suspect far more regularly than the past president.”