Biden Faults Trump for Slow Vaccine Rollout, Pledges Faster Pace
(Bloomberg) -- President-elect Joe Biden slammed the slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccine by President Donald Trump’s administration Tuesday, saying the plan was falling “far behind” where it needs to be and promising to ramp up vaccinations to 1 million shots a day.
“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” he said. “At the pace the vaccination program is moving now, it would take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”
Speaking in Delaware after meeting with his coronavirus advisers, Biden detailed his plans to speed up a massive vaccination project he called the “greatest operational challenge we have ever faced as a nation.”
Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act soon after taking office to compel private companies to make materials needed for the vaccines. His promise of 100 million shots in his first 100 days would represent a pace five times the current distribution.
More than 2 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S. since the process began on Dec. 14, according to a nationwide tally by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- far fewer than the 20 million the Trump administration promised would be administered by the end of the year.
“I’m going to move heaven and earth to get us going in the right direction,” Biden said. “The Biden-Harris administration will spare no effort to make sure people get vaccinated.”
Biden named nine more people to his Covid-19 response team, including three coordinators responsible for supply chain management, vaccinations and testing. Bechara Choucair, senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, will coordinate vaccines; Carole Johnson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, will coordinate testing; and Tim Manning, former deputy administrator of FEMA under President Barack Obama, will be the supply coordinator.
Trump responded to the criticism on Twitter, taking credit for vaccine development and saying it was up to states to distribute them.
In his speech, Biden made clear he’ll need help from Congress to fund his ambitious vaccine distribution and reopening plans, including protective equipment for front-line health workers and “tens of billions” of dollars to reopen K-8 schools.
“All of this — vaccinations, testing, protective gear — will require more funding from Congress, more than was just approved,” he said. That is why I will propose a Covid action package early next year and challenge Congress to act on it quickly.”
In a national appeal for Americans to wear masks, Biden predicted surging death tolls in the coming weeks and a total of 400,000 U.S. deaths by the time he’s sworn in.
“I know that’s hard to hear. But it’s the truth,” he said. “We need to steel our spines for what’s ahead.”
Biden’s assessment echoed similar warnings earlier in the day from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said he’s concerned that January virus levels in the U.S. may be worse than December’s after many Americans traveled for the holidays. The U.S. has seen over 19.3 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 335,000 deaths.
“We certainly are not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December,” Fauci said of the rate of vaccination on CNN. “Even if you undercount, 2 million as an undercount, how much undercount could it be? So we are below where we want to be.”
The Army general running the U.S. vaccine-distribution effort said earlier this month that a lag between when shots are produced and when they are cleared for shipment led to widespread confusion over how many doses states will receive.
General Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, said the U.S. would allocate 20 million doses of the vaccines by the end of December, though some may be delivered in the first week of January.
Biden also pushed for a massive education campaign to increase trust in the vaccines, particularly among minority communities that haven’t always been “treated with honesty and dignity” throughout U.S. history.
To that end, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris went to a low-income, largely African-American part of the District of Columbia on Tuesday to get her vaccine.
“That was easy,” she joked. “I barely felt it.” Her husband, Doug Emhoff, also received the shot at the United Medical Center.
“I trust the scientists,” Harris told reporters who accompanied her. “I urge everyone, when it is your turn, get vaccinated.” She said she chose that medical center so people living in minority communities knew they could get the vaccine from people who worked “in the hospital where your children were born, or where an elderly relative got medical treatment.”
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.