Biden says Pfizer's vaccine approval for kids 12-15 is ‘one more giant step’ in ending pandemic

President Joe Biden encouraged adolescents and their parents Wednesday to get vaccinated as the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control is set to endorse the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for older children ages 12 to 15, one of the final steps toward making the shots widely available for the age group in an effort to speed up the return to schools.

"This is one more giant step in our fight against the pandemic," he said. "I sincerely thank the scientists, researchers and clinical trial participants. They’ve all made this possible. Because of them, nearly 17 million more Americans are eligible to get vaccinated - and now."

He said as of Thursday, more than 15,000 pharmacies across the country are going to be ready to vaccinate this age group.

His remarks come as the U.S. is set to cross 250 million vaccination shots administered since Biden took office in January, and as COVID-19 deaths in the country have tumbled to the lowest level in 10 months.

COVID-19 deaths are now averaging around 600 per day in the U.S., with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and hitting zero on some days.

The last time deaths were this low was early July, nearly a year ago. COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. topped out in mid-January at an average of more than 3,400 a day, just a month into the biggest vaccination drive in the nation's history.

The Biden administration faces a pivotal moment in the U.S. vaccination campaign as it works to reach those who are still holding back. Demand has sagged in some parts of the country, resulting in the White House taking steps to make it easier to get the shot. 

The White House has announced several new initiatives to get America vaccinated in hopes of meeting Biden’s goal for 70% of U.S. adults to have at least one vaccine shot by the Fourth of July. 

"On July 4, let’s celebrate our independence as a nation and our independence from this virus," Biden said Wednesday. 

Last week, Biden called on states and federal pharmacy partners to make the vaccine available on a walk-in basis. The government also launched the website, as well as a text back program to find a nearby appointment.

And on Tuesday, new initiatives including free rides to vaccination sites from Lyft and Uber, vaccination clinics at community colleges and additional resources for states were announced.

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Biden announced last week a new target of 70% of American adults receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 160 million fully vaccinated, by Independence Day.

As of May 12, the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control reported 58% of adults have had at least one vaccination shot. About 44% of adults are fully vaccinated. This week, Pfizer's vaccine won authorization for use in 12- to 15-year-olds, in a move that could make it easier to reopen the nation's schools.

Confirmed infections, meanwhile, have fallen to about 38,000 day on average, their lowest mark since mid-September. While that is still cause for concern, they have plummeted 85% from a peak of more than a quarter-million cases per day in early January.

While case and death rates are improving, the nation's vaccination rate has dramatically slowed in recent weeks. According to the CDC, an average of about 690,000 Americans are getting their first dose of vaccine daily, down from a peak of more than 1.9 million per day a month ago.

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Also on Tuesday, the White House told a group of bipartisan governors that states had chosen not to accept 2.5 million doses of the nearly 18 million available to them this week due to declining interest. The administration did not reveal the complete list, though states like Iowa have been vocal about not needing additional vaccine supply given current demand.

"We have to make it easier and more convenient for all Americans to get vaccinated," Biden said, as he met with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, all Republicans, as well as Democratic Govs. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Janet Mills of Maine and Tim Walz of Minnesota.

The Associated Press contributed to this report