CHICAGO, United States

US President Joe Biden on Friday hailed his administration’s pandemic response and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, 150 days since the start of his presidency.

At the start of his speech at the White House, he repeated his opening line: “Today we have reached 300 million shots in arms in 150 days.”

Biden called it “an important milestone that didn’t happen by chance.”

He did not mention that it appears his initial goal of 70% of Americans with at least one shot of the vaccine by July 4, America’s Independence Day, will be missed.

But 65% of Americans have gotten at least one shot, Biden said, through his administration’s “war-time” response to the pandemic, building a “whole of government” response.

“Together,” he said, “we built an unparalleled vaccination program,” with over 80,000 vaccination sites around the nation. He also said his administration was in a position to offer half a billion vaccine doses to impoverished nations around the world.

Fifteen US states and the District of Columbia, Biden said, are now at 70% vaccination rates for their populations. He said that cases and death counts are down to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic.

This week, the John Hopkins University reported the number of Americans who have caught the virus is heading toward 34 million, while the number of those killed by the pandemic ticked above 600,000, a proof, Biden said, that “the threat is still there.”

On that front, Biden said, he was using his declaration of the new national “Juneteenth” federal holiday, marking the end of slavery, as a jumping off point for federal and state governments to work more actively this weekend in communities of color to push the vaccines.

Black communities have been hit hardest by the virus and have also been more resistant to the vaccines.

Biden mentioned that in some US states — 11, according to Johns Hopkins — the number of new virus cases has not been trending down, but rather been flat or been rising in the past week.

He suggested that the Delta variant of COVID-19 was the culprit, saying that its effects can be more brutal on victims than the original COVID strain, but reassuring Americans that the vaccines available now prevent it.

Biden urged Americans to talk about whatever vaccine fears they have to talk with family members and their doctors.

And he grew passionate about the vaccines: “PLEASE,” he implored, “get vaccinated NOW, NOW, don’t put it off.”

But he also struck a tone of optimism.

“Folks, we’re heading into a very different summer than last year, a summer of hope and, God willing, joy.”

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