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President Joe Biden targets 1.5 million Covid vaccinations a day, up from 1 million

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks before signing a “Made in America” Executive Order in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on January 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden said Monday the United States could reach 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccinations per day, topping his previously targeted pace of 1 million per day, which was nearly met already by the Trump administration.

Biden has pledged to administer 100 million shots of coronavirus vaccine in his first 100 days in office, a pace of 1 million shots per day.

“That is my promise, that we would get 100 million vaccinations,” he said Monday. “I think with the grace of God and the good will of the neighbor and the crick not rising, as the old saying goes, I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day, but we have to meet that goal of a million a day.”

Some public health specialists have criticized Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of vaccine in his first 100 days in office as too modest. When Biden assumed the presidency last week, the U.S. was already well on its way to achieving the necessary pace of 1 million shots per day. As of Sunday, the U.S. topped a seven-day average of 1.1 million vaccinations per day, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And with the anticipated introduction of Johnson & Johnson‘s one-shot vaccine next month, the Biden administration is now saying that the 1 million shots per day pace is a floor, rather than a goal. The two currently authorized vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, both require two doses to achieve maximum protection against the virus. The potential authorization of JNJ’s one-shot vaccine could substantially accelerate the mass effort.

But just last week, Biden dismissed the idea that the goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days might be too low of a threshold, claiming that he was told before he took office that the target might be too high.

“I find it fascinating that yesterday the press asked the question, ‘Is 100 million enough?’ The week before they said, ‘Biden, are you crazy? You can’t do 100 million in 100 days,” the president said Friday. “We’re, God willing, not only going to do 100 million, we’re going to do more than that.”

Biden said Monday that the administration is working to increase the number of people who can administer the shots, boost production of the doses, and set up more facilities where people can schedule appointments and receive their inoculations.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “We’re trying to get out a minimum of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, and move in the direction where we are well beyond that in the next 100 days, so we can get to the point where we reach herd immunity in a country of over 300 million people.”

His change in tune echoes comments made this weekend by White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served in the Trump administration. Fauci said Sunday the Biden target of 100 million doses in 100 days is not a final number.

“It is really a floor and not a ceiling,” Fauci told the CBS program “Face The Nation.” “It is going to be a challenge. I think it was a reasonable goal that was set. We always want to do better than the goal that you’ve set.”

With a limited supply of doses, states are still rationing the lifesaving shots, setting eligibility parameters that vary widely. The Trump administration and now the Biden White House have both encouraged states to quickly move through the phases of eligibility to broaden the population able to get the vaccines.

Pressed on Monday by a reporter about when the U.S. will get to the point when anyone who wants to get the vaccines will be able to, Biden said this spring. But he added it is going “to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country.”

“I feel confident that by summer we’re going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity,” he said.

But even as Biden voiced a more aggressive target for the vaccination campaign, he added Monday that the U.S. is “going to see somewhere between a total of 600,000 to 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner in a major way.”

And the president painted an even bleaker picture last week, saying that “there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.