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Half of U.S. Adults Are Fully Vaccinated. How Do We Reach the Other Half?

Black man wearing a mask receiving vaccine form medical professional

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Key Takeaways

  • Over half of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • To get closer to herd immunity, making vaccines as accessible and fairly-distributed as possible is imperative.
  • Advocacy groups like Families USA are working to improve vaccine distribution in communities of color, which are typically underserved by health care.
  • In recent weeks, BIPOC individuals have made up the majority of people getting their first doses of the vaccine.

On Tuesday, May 25, the White House announced that half of all American adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That means over 50% of people in the U.S. age 18 and older are at least two weeks past their final vaccine dose.

“This is a major milestone in our country's vaccination efforts,” said Andy Slavitt, senior advisor to President Biden on the coronavirus response, during a White House reporter’s briefing on Tuesday. “The number was 1 percent when we entered office January 20th.”

Slavitt said that the country has “more work to do to meet the President’s goal of 70 percent of adult Americans [having one] shot by July 4th.” Public health experts believe it will be a challenge to convince every person who is medically eligible for a vaccine to get one.

Who Is At Risk of Getting Left Behind?

The biggest challenge is vaccine equity. This means getting vaccines to traditionally underserved communities, or communities where access to healthcare is limited.

To help meet this challenge, consumer health group Families USA announced a strategic initiative on Tuesday to help states and communities more fairly distribute COVID-19 vaccinations. Their goal? To make sure at least 70 million people of color are vaccinated by July 1, 2021—millions more than the current level, Kelly Murphy, a health policy expert at Families USA, tells Verywell.

Families USA’s new initiative, funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to:

  • Gather comprehensive race and ethnicity data to understand the challenges and barriers in BIPOC communities
  • Empower communities to be able to address long-standing inequities in health, both during the pandemic and after

“It is well understood that BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] communities are bearing the brunt of this pandemic,” Frederick Isasi, Executive Director of Families USA, said in a statement. “A vaccination strategy aimed at reducing death and illness from COVID-19 must prioritize the hardest-hit communities.”

Murphy says that a key component of increasing vaccine uptake in communities of color is to work directly with community leaders “both for guidance on strategy and to be the messengers in those communities.” 

To make her point, Murphy references two clinics in Fort Worth, Texas, both established to help boost vaccination rates in Latinx communities. One was held at a community center, was promoted and attended by a city council member and community groups, and ultimately got 335 people vaccinated. The other was held at a fire station and involved no community leaders or local officials. Only 39 people were vaccinated.

A third vaccination clinic in Fort Worth was focused on the Black population. At a church-based event heavily promoted and attended by a local congregation, 757 people were vaccinated.

Communities Are Making Progress

The White House did report encouraging trends in vaccinating people of color during the reporter’s briefing on Tuesday.

“As we look at our national data now on race [and] ethnicity, it continues to suggest close to the majority of first-vaccine doses administered to adults in recent weeks are going to people of color,” said Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, chair of the White House health equity task force. “And we've made substantial, significant progress in data collection and reporting. We've gone from 17 states reporting those variables in January to 48 states reporting them now… And as data quality continues to improve, we will have greater confidence as we use these data to guide and drive outreach, engagement, and resource investment.”

Nunez-Smith says a few steps can help eliminate remaining barriers to vaccination—many of which the Biden Administration is facilitating:

  • Providing transportation to and from a vaccination site
  • More walk-up vaccination opportunities
  • More flexible hours at vaccine sites
  • Clearer communication that insurance is not required and COVID-19 vaccines are free
  • Clearer communication that eligibility is not impacted by documentation status
  • Partnering with employers so people have paid time off for vaccination

What This Means For You

In the United States, more adults are fully vaccinated than not, which is an important step to protecting everyone against COVID-19. If you’re not vaccinated yet, several new initiatives are making it easier to book and get to an appointment. To explore your options, consider starting by sending a text. To see nearby locations with available vaccine supply right now, you can text your ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) for English or 822862 (VACUNA) for Spanish.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Families USA. Equity in COVID-19 vaccines: emerging lessons from the front lines. Published April 2021.