President-elect Joe Biden on Friday unveiled a five-point plan to try to rescue the country’s beleaguered COVID-19 vaccination campaign and achieve his stated goal of reaching 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.
The five steps include, in brief:
- Working with states to open and clarify eligibility for vaccination
- Help set up additional vaccination sites
- “Fully activate” pharmacies to act as vaccination sites
- Ramp up manufacturing of vaccine and supplies
- Commit to transparency and rollout a massive public information campaign to combat disinformation
“The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said in speech. These five things are an attempt to turn things around, to “turn frustration into motivation.”
Given the fumbles so far, Biden addressed skepticism of reaching 100 million shots in 100 days. “Is it achievable? It’s a legitimate question to ask,” Biden said. “Let me be clear, I’m convinced we can get it done. And this is a time to set big goals… because the health of the nation is literally at stake.”
Still, his five-point plan raises some immediate questions. To start, making the vaccine available to more people—including people age 65 and older and essential workers, such as teachers, first responders, and grocery store clerks—is an idea that was already introduced by the Trump Administration earlier this week. That idea quickly created chaos. In the past few days, many states have reported being overwhelmed by demand for their limited vaccine supply.
Biden seemed to acknowledge the problem, saying: “It won’t mean that everyone in this group will get vaccinated immediately, as the supply is not where it needs to be. But it will mean that as vaccines become available, they’ll reach more people that need them.”
It’s unclear how Biden’s Administration will help states prioritize this large section of the population and maintain order as vaccine allotments are doled out.
Increasing vaccination sites and enlisting more pharmacies to provide vaccines are other strategies that have been brought up by the Trump Administration. But Biden said that his team had already begun having “productive conversations” with state and local leaders about where to set up new vaccination sites. In his speech, the President-elect set a goal of working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to set up the first 100 federally-supported vaccination centers by the end of his first month in office. He also said the administration will have mobile clinics that will move from community to community to reach the hardest hit and hardest to reach.
Come through together
In the plan’s fourth point, Biden reiterated his plan to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing materials needed to supply and administer the vaccine, such as syringes and personal protective equipment for vaccine providers.
Biden also reiterated his intention to release the “vast majority” of vaccine doses when they’re available. The plan was meant to reverse a Trump Administration policy of holding back 50 percent of vaccine supplies in order to reserve them for second doses of the two-dose regimens. However, according to a report in the Washington Post Friday morning, the Trump Administration has already released its stockpile. Biden did not address the news or if his plans will be affected given that there are no longer any reserves to boost current vaccine allotments.
Last, Biden spoke about transparency and combating the misinformation and disinformation that has plagued the public health guidance and the country’s response to the pandemic since it began. Biden touched on the problem of vaccine hesitancy and disinformation, but he spent a significant amount of time lamenting how political public health measures have become.
“I know it’s become a partisan issue,” he said, referring to wearing masks. “But, what a stupid, stupid thing for it to happen,” Biden said, calling mask wearing a “patriotic act.”
He continued: it was “shocking” to see Republican Congress members refuse to wear masks while huddling in a secure location during the January 6 insurrection. “What the hell’s the matter with them? It’s time to grow up,” Biden said.
He emphasized that as the administration works to right the vaccination campaign, Americans need to continue following the same public health guidance, such as hand washing, physical distancing, and masking.
“The only way we come through this is if we come through together as Americans,” Biden said.
The president-elect called on Congress to help fund his efforts to mount the federal vaccination program. In his American Rescue Plan, unveiled Thursday evening, Biden asked for over $400 billion to contain COVID-19 and get schools reopened.