The president-elect has announced ambitious initiatives to combat Covid-19 and its economic toll, seeking to overcome the struggles and failures of the Trump administration, which has presided over a slow start to the biggest vaccination drive in US history.
The challenge is steep: Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, told CNN on Sunday, Biden’s team projected another 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the first five weeks of the administration.
According to Johns Hopkins University, by Sunday morning 23,760,523 cases and 395,855 deaths had been recorded in the US.
“It’s going to take a while to turn this around,” Klain said.
Fauci, the top US infectious disease doctor, told NBC’s Meet the Press: “I can tell you one thing that’s clear is that the issue of getting 100m [vaccination] doses in the first 100 days, is absolutely a doable thing. What the president-elect is going to do is where we need be, to invoke the [Defense Production Act] to get the kinds of things they need, whatever they may be, be they tests, be they vaccines or what have you.
“In other words, to just not be hesitant to use whatever mechanisms we can to get everything on track and on the flow that we predict. But the feasibility of his goal is absolutely clear, there’s no doubt about it. That can be done.”
Officials have warned that continued failure to properly plan for distribution and administration might thwart gains from rapid vaccine development. The new administration must also seek to shore up a long-fractured public health system while facing probable Republican opposition to meaningful financial relief via Congress.
On Friday, Biden called for a dramatic expansion of federal aid in order to inoculate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days. Such a goal is being set as a more transmissible coronavirus strain is poised to sweep the US.
NBC host Chuck Todd asked Fauci about the Trump administration’s claim that there is no vaccine stockpile, which came after an announcement that it would release reserve doses.
“Was this a miscommunication?” Todd asked. “Was this a bigger error?”
Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said he was “not exactly sure … but I tried and I think successfully sorted that out. I had a conversation with Gen Gustav Perna [head of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine development and distribution programme] last night and again this morning, and I think there was just a misunderstanding.”
Initially, Fauci said, “there was a lot of caution” in doling out doses to ensure second doses could be delivered on time, so half were held back. When it became clear that the flow of doses was “really going to be consistent and reliable”, the reserve was released.
Biden has promised to launch federally funded vaccination sites at venues such as stadiums and school gymnasiums, staffing them with “thousands” of workers. Pharmacies would also be “activated” to provide vaccines through appointment. CVS, among the largest US pharmacy chains, subsequently said its stores could provide 1m injections daily at 10,000 locations. Biden has said states will have more transparency in planning for vaccine delivery.
The incoming administration must green-light new vaccines and ramp up supply chains for personal protective equipment, so healthcare employees can safely work. Biden has said he will use the Defense Production Act, which permits the government to demand that private companies turn out needed products.
Biden must also convince Americans to get the vaccine and to follow basic public health measures. While he called on people to “mask up” for 100 days – which could potentially prevent 50,000 deaths – anti-mask sentiment persists in some hard-hit areas.
Fauci was asked if he thought new Covid variants might spur new restrictions or public health guidance such as double-masking.
Fauci said: “When you have a variant that’s really very, very different in the sense of it’s more contagious, it tells you to do two things. One, double down on the public health measures that we’ve been talking about all the time. Be very compulsive, as the president-elect says, at least for the first 100 days and maybe more, everybody wear a mask. Keep the distance. Avoid the congregate settings.
“But also, another important thing, the easiest way to evade this negative effect of these new isolates is to just when the vaccine becomes available, people should get vaccinated. Boy, if ever there was a clarion call for people to put aside vaccine hesitancy, if we can get, you know, the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated, we’d be in very good shape and could beat even the mutant.”
Fauci also said “we’re weeks away, to months away” from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson presenting vaccine data to the Food and Drug Administration.
Klain told CNN’s State of the Union: “We’re going to measure progress by the goal the president-elect set very clearly: 100m inoculations in 100 days, that would be a successful vaccination program, unlike any we’ve seen in American history.”
He added that the new administration was “inheriting a huge mess here, but we have a plan to fix it”.
Biden’s proposed $1.9tn coronavirus and economic plan must get bipartisan congressional approval. Kate Bedingfield, the incoming White House communications director, was asked on ABC’s This Week about politicians in both parties expressing concern about the price tag.
“There’s been bipartisan support for all of these pieces,” she said. “This plan reflects the urgent needs, the things that people need right now.
“We’ve got millions of Americans unemployed. We’ve got thousands of Americans dying from the virus every day. There’s no question we are in a state of emergency here, and this plan is designed to get the relief that people need to them right away.”