Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do” US President Joe Biden has mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the COVID pandemic.
He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning the fight against the virus is not yet over.
“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1000 service personnel, first responders and other guests for a July 4 celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.
For Biden it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed.
The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication the US has moved into a new phase of virus response.
Shifting from a national emergency to a localised crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.
“This year July 4 is a day of special celebration. For we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.
Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.
“That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”
Biden wanted Americans to celebrate after enduring 16 months of disruption by the pandemic and more than 605,000 deaths.
The White House encouraged gatherings and fireworks displays all around the country to mark the nation’s “independence” from the virus.
And there was much to cheer: Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to a robust vaccination program.
Businesses and restaurants are back open, hiring is picking up, and travel is getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.
However, Biden’s optimism was measured for good reason. The goal he had set with great fanfare for July 4 – 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated – fell short at 67 per cent, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More concerning to officials was the gap between heavily vaccinated communities, where the virus was dying out, and lesser-vaccinated ones where a more-infectious variant is already taking hold.
More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, and tens of millions have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccines.
With US demand for vaccines falling, and as governments and businesses dangled an array of incentives at Americans to get a shot, officials were increasingly emphasising that the consequences of disease now largely reflect the individual choice of those who are not yet vaccinated.
“The suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable,” said the CDC’s director, Doctor Rochelle Walensky.
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