President-elect Joe Biden has called for a vast expansion of federal aid in order to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office, an ambitious target set as a new and more transmissible strain of Covid-19 is expected to sweep the country.
Seeking to mount the most complex and logistically challenging vaccination campaign in US history, Biden’s administration will have to confront vaccine hesitancy, a burned out healthcare workforce, a lack of clear information on vaccine distribution and demand that far outstrips supply.
“Get more people vaccinated for free,” said Biden, listing his goals, in remarks from Wilmington, Delaware. “Create more places for them to get vaccinated. Mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms. Increase supply and get it out the door as soon as possible.
“This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country – but you have my word, we will manage the hell out of this operation.”
Donald Trump will leave Biden with a complex, multi-layered crisis caused by the coronavirus and worsened by the current administration. In nearly every instance, the Trump administration sought to leave Covid-19 response to states, distancing itself from fights for protective gear, supplies, tests and now confusion over vaccine supplies.
Biden called the effort so far a “dismal failure”.
Achieving his goal to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days would double the pace set by the Trump administration, which pledged to get 20 million vaccinated by the end of 2020. So far, only 12 million have received shots.
Even as vaccines are rolled out, many more Americans are expected to succumb to Covid-19, in part because a more transmissible variant called B117 is expected to overtake dominant strains in the US in roughly eight weeks, further straining health resources.
“Things will get worse before they get better,” said Biden, adding: “The policy changes we’re making will take time to show up in the Covid statistics.”
It often takes weeks for infected individuals to be diagnosed, hospitalized or die.
Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, has said he expects Covid to claim 500,000 American lives by the end of February, because “we haven’t fully funded the Covid response”. Already, the virus has killed more than 390,000 Americans and left 25.7 million unemployed as the economy backslides amid rising cases.
Biden laid out a more ambitious, and expensive, plan to take control of the coronavirus than any undertaken by the Trump administration. One analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress called it “a sharp departure from the Trump administration’s fend-for-yourself approach”.
Biden pledged to set up 100 federally funded vaccination sites at places like school gymnasiums and sports stadiums; to “staff up” the centers with “thousands” of workers; and establish community vaccination centers in hard-to-reach and hard-hit places.
“We commit to making sure communities of color, rural neighborhoods, and those living with disabilities and seniors are not left behind in our vaccination plans,” said Biden. He also called the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on minorities and marginalized Americans “unacceptable, unconscionable”.
Under the Biden plan, pharmacies would also be “activated” to distribute vaccines through appointments. That prompted CVS, one of the largest chains in the country, to say it was ready to distribute 1m shots a day through 10,000 locations. Biden also said states would have more transparent tools to plan for the number of doses to be delivered.
Biden’s administration also needs to approve new vaccines to solve supply shortages, and improve supply chains for the personal protective equipment health workers need to safely do their jobs. Gloves, for example, have been in short supply for months.
To solve these shortages Biden pledged to use the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to direct private suppliers to produce goods, in order to make protection gear, vaccines and vaccination supplies.
Another major challenge of the vaccination effort has been convincing Americans to get injections, as Trump has sown misinformation and confusion throughout the pandemic. Biden said his administration would undertake “a massive public education campaign” and increase transparency to help Americans understand the vaccine.
Importantly, Biden also called on Americans to “mask up” for 100 days, an effort he said could save 50,000 lives if Americans universally committed to wear face coverings. In spite of the new B117 variant, scientists believe human behavior remains the most powerful tool to bend the curve of new infections.
“Our administration will lead with science and scientists,” said Biden.
Biden’s speech came one day after he announced a $1.9tn rescue package for the American economy, which included funding for his vaccine efforts, as the economy deteriorates amid widespread Covid-19 transmission. In December, an additional 787,000 workers applied for unemployment assistance.
Biden’s speech came the same day that the world marked the deaths of 2 million people from the coronavirus one year into the crisis, and as an uneven recovery saw wealthy nations begin to vaccinate their populations, while developing nations could only wait.