Political

Biden, Fauci’s shifting timeline for the pandemic explained

Alex Wong/Getty ImageBY: ANNE FLAHERTY, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) — You might get a vaccine shot in June. Or July. Hopefully by fall.

And children are definitely returning to school soon, maybe.

As for when things return to normal? Let’s not talk about that yet.

President Joe Biden and his team of top advisers, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, this week struggled to explain what most Americans should expect in the months ahead, using new dates tied to the vaccine rollout and shifting goals on school reopenings.

Here are three things to know about the head-spinning timeline:

There is a new normal, and no one wants to talk about it.

After months of suggesting that life could start to feel “normal” again this fall — if the vaccine rollout worked as planned — Fauci in an interview with LA Times Today this week gave a new prediction.

“Hopefully, by the time we start entering 2022, we really will have a degree of normality that will approximate the kind of normality we’ve been used to,” Fauci said.

That was a departure from previous predictions, including remarks he gave at conference hosted by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals just last month.

“If everything goes right … by the time we get to the early to mid-fall, you can have people feeling safe performing onstage as well as people in the audience,” he said on Jan. 9.

Biden had clearly gotten the memo before going on stage at a CNN Town Hall on Tuesday, suggesting that life could feel normal again in “Christmas.”

But by the next morning, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House wanted out of the predictions business.

“We want to be straight with the American public … We are not in a place where we can predict exactly when everybody will feel normal again,” Psaki said in a press conference on Wednesday.

April is no longer ‘open season’ for vaccines

The suggestion that life will take longer than expected to return to normal was always tied to when there will be enough doses for everyone.

April had long been identified as the month the vaccine supply would open up to younger, healthy Americans without health issues. While it wouldn’t necessarily mean that everyone would get their shot in spring, Fauci referred to this expanded eligibility as “open season.”

“The beginning of the availability to anybody beyond the priority groups likely will be sometime in April, then it will take several months — May, June, July, August — before you really get what I would consider the herd immunity level,” Fauci said in a Jan. 26 interview on ABC News Live.

Biden echoed the timeline in a press conference on the vaccine five days after taking office.

“I think it’ll be this spring,” he said, when asked when everyone who wants to be vaccinated would be able to get the vaccine.

Then, with little fanfare, that timeline slid by two months. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Fauci said most people might not become eligible for the vaccine until late May or early June.

The reason, he said, was an initially low supply of the upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccine – an issue the Biden administration would have been aware of since taking office.

Officials from both the Trump and Biden administrations had discussed publicly that Johnson & Johnson’s supply wouldn’t be sizable out of the gate and it was the subject of a lengthy article by The New York Times on Jan. 13.

“I’m a little disappointed that the number of doses that we’ll get early on from J&J are relatively small,” Fauci said, noting that his earlier April timeline was “predicated” on having “considerably more doses” from the company.

Jeff Zients, the president’s top COVID-19 response coordinator, also suggested Johnson & Johnson’s initial production number was a surprise.

“Across the last few weeks, we’ve learned that there is not a big inventory of Johnson & Johnson. There’s a few million doses that we’ll start with,” Zients told reporters.

Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine could be authorized as soon as next week, declined to comment. It said it has promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June and will meet its obligations.

Biden changes promises on schools

Upon entering office, Biden promised to reopen a majority of K-8 schools by the end of his first 100 days.

“We can do this if we give the school districts — the schools themselves, the communities, the states — the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they need that they can’t afford right now because of the economic dilemma they are in,” he said in a Jan. 14 speech.

Psaki, his press secretary, later told reporters that meant only 50% or more of schools open one day a week. On Tuesday, Biden called that a “mistake in the communication.”

“I think many of them, five days a week. The goal will be five days a week,” Biden said Tuesday.

Still, Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday could not offer a straightforward answer on whether teachers should require vaccines before returning to the classroom.

“Can you reassure teachers who are listening right now, that it is safe for them to go back to school, even if they are not vaccinated, if the public health measures, like distancing and masks, are being implemented?” NBC’s Savannah Gutherie asked Harris.

“Teachers should be a priority, along with other front line workers,” Harris said. “We’re going to make them a priority.”

On Wednesday, Psaki said the White House agrees with the recommendations by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that teacher vaccinations aren’t a prerequisite for reopening schools.

Vaccinations are one out of “a number of mitigation steps that should be taken by schools to keep things safe,” she said.

ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky, Jordyn Phelps, Ben Gittleson and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

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