WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden repeated his plea for Americans to get vaccinated as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to surge and is responsible for half the cases in several states.
Biden said the more transmissible and more dangerous variant poses a huge risk to those who remain unvaccinated. About 1,000 counties have a vaccination rate below 30%, and the federal government is warning that they could become the next hot spots as virus restrictions ease.
"The good news is that our vaccinations are highly effective," he said from the White House Tuesday afternoon. "Fully vaccinated Americans have a high degree of protection."
"Please get vaccinated now," he added.
RELATED: Biden says US is in 'better place' despite COVID-19 pandemic in July 4 address
Biden said his administration is working to increase efforts to get more Americans vaccinated in their communities. He said 42,000 local pharmacies across the country will provide the vaccine without an appointment. Biden’s team will also work on getting more vaccines to family doctors to make it easier to get vaccinated at their doctor’s office, including teenagers and younger children. He’s also pushing companies to offer vaccinations at worksites and offer paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. Biden also wants to deploy more mobile units to deliver vaccines to communities.
His speech comes after his Independence Day vaccination goal — 70% of the adult population to have received at least one dose — fell short at 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, the White House has acknowledged the progress made in the effort to stem the pandemic.
"Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together," Biden declared Sunday as he hosted more than 1,000 guests for a July Fourth celebration at the White House.
More than 33 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus and more than 605,000 Americans have died since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great," said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis Board of Health. "If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said about 99.2% of recent COVID-19 deaths in the United States involved unvaccinated people. Fauci added that "it’s really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable."
He told NBC’s "Meet the Press" it’s frustrating "where you have a formidable enemy" in the coronavirus and "yet we do have a countermeasure that’s highly, highly effective. And that’s the reason why it’s all the more sad and all the more tragic why it isn’t being completely implemented in this country."
Vaccine hesitancy remains a problem even as states offer incentives to get people vaccinated. A new Gallup poll showed that 78% of unvaccinated Americans say they don’t plan to ever get the shot.
However, the U.S. has made progress compared to a year ago.
Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust U.S. vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants were open, hiring was picking up and travel was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.