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White House Is Making One Last Push To Get 70% Of Americans Vaccinated Before July 4

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

July 4 is almost here, and the U.S. has not quite reached President Biden's vaccination goal despite a campaign-style push to get out the vaccine. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It wouldn't be a campaign without a bus. In this case, it's pink and blue with the slogan, we can do this, big and bold on the side. It was in Dayton, Ohio, as HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge danced along to a pro-vaccine jam from R&B singer Shirley Murdock.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHIRLEY MURDOCK: (Singing) We can do it. I got my shot, yeah.

KEITH: And the bus did a lap around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Labor Secretary Marty Walsh pitched vaccination with past Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONY KANAAN: I take a lot of risks at this racetrack, but not with my health. So get vaccinated.

KEITH: It's been a race to the finish to try to meet the goal of 70% of adults getting their first dose. Volunteers made phone calls and sent text messages, about 3 million so far. But vaccination rates have slowed, and they aren't going to make it. Even today, First Lady Jill Biden is in Texas making the pitch. Last week, she was in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JILL BIDEN: Only 3 in 10 Tennesseans are vaccinated. And...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Booing).

BIDEN: Well, you're booing yourselves (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Laughter).

BIDEN: So that's why I wanted to visit today.

KEITH: And she brought a friend - country star Brad Paisley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRAD PAISLEY: (Singing) Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine.

KEITH: Although it isn't a purely political issue, vaccination rates are higher in places that voted for President Biden and lower in places that did not. Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who has worked to develop messaging to break through the divide, says the White House did the right things.

FRANK LUNTZ: At some point, it becomes an issue of personal responsibility. This is what America is all about. It's about people making choices for themselves and their families and their communities. And frankly, sometimes they make the wrong choice. But that's what freedom is.

KEITH: Administration officials say they will continue pushing past July 4th. There's a new risk for the unvaccinated - the more contagious Delta variant, now circulating widely. Doctor Nahid Bhadelia is director of the Boston University Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases.

NAHID BHADELIA: I think the thing that concerns me about where we have fallen short is the absolute difference, the disparities, in the vaccination levels. Because in the next phase of the pandemic, outbreaks are going to be hyper local.

KEITH: But the White House isn't letting any of this get in the way of a good party. This weekend, officials are fanning out all over the country to celebrate that hospitalizations and deaths are way down and life has in many ways returned to normal.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.