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The Biden administration has been pretty quiet about “winning.” Still, the favorite word of Biden’s predecessor was especially far from anyone’s minds on Tuesday, when headlines began to confirm that the U.S. is on track to miss its July 4 vaccination target. The administration wanted to get shots in the arms of 160 million Americans by Independence Day; it appears now it’ll come up a little less than 10 million people short.
Good, not because there are still a concerning number of Americans who refuse to get vaccinated, but because it means the Biden administration set itself an actually ambitious goal — one that it now has all the more incentive to try to meet.
In January, my colleague Noah Millman warned that the president’s initial “extremely low target” of reaching 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days left the White House prepared to vault over a low bar of their own making. “But low expectations have a funny way of leading to worse outcomes,” he wrote, adding “if the incentive is to clearly beat the number, then 110 million shots is just as good as 150 million.” In March, I echoed that we ought to take the Biden administration’s boasts about hitting their 100 million mark 42 days early with a grain of salt. A little over a month later, the White House finally announced its new goal of administering at least one vaccine dose to 70 percent of the U.S. population by the 4th of July.
Missing this goal — and admittedly not by very much — illustrates that the administration wasn’t just aiming for another easy win. And while the expected political spin is already underway (the 30+ demographic has already cleared the 70 percent benchmark, the head of the White House COVID-19 response team was quick to point out), the “few extra weeks” it will take for the over 18 population to catch up will hopefully present an opportunity for the administration to focus on the uneven vaccination rates around the country. It’s time to target regions that have the most room to grow, like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming, where less than 50 percent of adults have had their first shots according to The Washington Post.
“Winning” is pretty overrated if you only set the kinds of goals you can meet. I’m much happier celebrating a meaningful and earnest failure.