By Jarrett Renshaw
RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) -President Joe Biden urged more Americans to take advantage of COVID-19 vaccinations on a trip to North Carolina on Thursday as the rate of inoculations slows despite a nationwide effort to get shots in arms to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"The data couldn't be clearer ... if you're vaccinated, you're safe," Biden told a Raleigh crowd that planned to visit neighborhoods to advocate for getting the vaccine. "You are still at risk of getting seriously ill or dying if you in fact have not been vaccinated."
Only 55% of the southern state's adult population has had at least one shot despite a slew of incentives, including a $1 million lottery, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The White House acknowledged this week that it would not meet a self-imposed deadline to get 70% of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4, noting that those aged 18 to 26 have been especially reluctant to get the shots.
Biden's visit came as the more contagious Delta variant of the virus is taking hold across the globe and emerging as the biggest obstacle to stopping COVID-19 within U.S. borders, infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said earlier this week.
"Unvaccinated people are incredibly vulnerable," Biden said, referencing the Delta variant.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have reached Biden’s vaccination goal, but the country as a whole and several other states continue to lag.
(See a graphic on U.S. infection and vaccinations rates here https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb.)
The trip to North Carolina, Biden's first since he took office in January, was one of a series of COVID-related events on Thursday. First Lady Jill Biden and Fauci were in Florida to visit vaccine sites, including a drive-through site and one at a hockey arena.
(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Sonya Hepinstall)