President Biden pleaded with Americans to remain vigilant against the coronavirus on Thursday, rallying states and private businesses to support vaccine mandates in an effort to avoid a surge in cases.
“We’re headed in the right direction. We have critical work to do and we can’t let up now,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at the White House. “I’m calling on more business to step up. I’m calling on more parents to get their children vaccinated when they are eligible.”
Mr. Biden projected optimism amid a drop in new cases compared to a devastating summer wave that undermined the president’s commitment to overcome the pandemic and curb the harm it has inflicted on the economy and schools.
The United States is now recording roughly 90,000 new infections a day, down more than 40 percent since August. Hospitalizations and deaths are also falling. Nearly 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, and many children under 12 are likely to be eligible for their shots in a matter of weeks.
“That’s important, it’s important progress but it’s not — now is not the time to let up,” Mr. Biden said. “We have a lot more to do.”
The president used the moment to issue a warning that the pandemic is not yet over, an effort to avoid the mistake he made last July when he celebrated “independence from the virus” on the Fourth of July. Nearly 2,000 Americans are still dying every day as the country heads into winter.
Mr. Biden, noting “the 66 million, still an unacceptably high number of unvaccinated people,” sought to encourage private businesses to implement vaccine mandates that have become the focus of Republican attacks.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, issued an executive order earlier this week barring virtually any coronavirus vaccine mandate in the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, also a Republican, threatened to fine localities that mandate vaccines for government employees, complicating the administration’s efforts to curb the pandemic.
“Vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us,” Mr. Biden said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this week submitted the initial text of its emergency temporary standard to the Office of Management and Budget. It must undergo a likely weeks-long interagency review process before it is issued to companies, and some business have said they are waiting for the guidance before implementing mandates.
Mr. Biden also spoke about the administration’s plans for distributing booster shots to vulnerable Americans. The Food and Drug Administration has already authorized booster shots for many people who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago.
An advisory committee to the F.D.A. voted unanimously to recommend a third dose of the Moderna vaccine for many of the vaccine’s recipients.
“Boosters are free, I’ll say it again, free, available and convenient to get,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden also said the F.D.A. is still determining whether to authorize a vaccine for children between the age of five and 11, and should reach a decision “in the next few weeks.”