President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines across the country has fallen “far behind.”
“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said, delivering remarks on the Covid-19 crisis from Wilmington, Delaware.
“A few weeks ago, the Trump administration suggested that 20 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of December. With only a few days left in December, we’ve only vaccinated a few million so far,” he added.
Biden said if the vaccination program continues at the current pace “it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.” The President-elect had received a briefing from his Covid-19 advisory team earlier Tuesday, a transition official told CNN.
On December 9, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on CNN’s “New Day” that “20 million people should get vaccinated in just the next several weeks.”
About 11.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been distributed in the US and about 2.1 million have been administered as of Tuesday evening, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The President-elect has laid out a plan to distribute 100 million vaccine shots, which is enough to cover 50 million people, in his initial 100 days in office. He reiterated on Tuesday that Congress would need to provide the necessary funding in order to reach that goal.
But Biden cautioned that even with the funding, vaccinating the entire US population would still take time. He said even if the vaccinations were ramped up to 1 million shots per day, it would still take months to vaccinate the majority of the population.
“This is going to be the greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation,” Biden said. “But we’re going to get it done. But it’s going to take a vast new effort that’s not yet underway.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that he is still “pretty confident” that a Covid-19 vaccine would be available to most Americans by April.
“Of course, obviously when you compare 2 million to 20 million, that’s a big difference,” Fauci said. “But whenever you roll out a large program that’s a comprehensive vaccine program with a brand new vaccine like this, in the beginning it always starts slow and then starts to gain momentum,” Fauci said.
The President-elect on Tuesday pledged to “move heaven and Earth” once he is sworn in as president next month to get the American population vaccinated. He said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate the creation of necessary materials needed for vaccines as well as personal protective equipment.
Biden said he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have spoken with county officials, mayors and governors from both parties about speeding up vaccine distribution efforts. He said his administration is planning to set up vaccination sites and will “send mobile units to hard-to-reach communities,” stressing the importance of distributing the vaccine in an equitable manner.
The President-elect spoke about the hesitancy many Americans feel about taking the vaccine, particularly in communities of color, and said his administration would launch a “massive public education campaign to increase vaccine acceptance.”
He said Black, Latino and Native American communities “have not always been treated with the dignity and honesty they deserve by the federal government and the scientific community throughout our history.”
Biden said he hopes Trump will “clearly and unambiguously” urge the American public to take the vaccine once it becomes available and to wear masks to stop the spread. He said when Trump’s doctors recommend he be inoculated, the President should do so in order to instill public confidence in the vaccine.
Trump has not yet received the vaccine and won’t be administered one until it is recommended by the White House medical team, a White House official previously told CNN. The official said at the time that Trump was still receiving the benefits of the monoclonal antibody cocktail he was given after he tested positive for Covid-19 this fall but that the President was likely to get his shot.
In its clinical guidance for the coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the vaccines should be offered to people previously infected with coronavirus, as Trump was in early October. It noted that vaccination could be delayed somewhat, since reinfection is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection.
However, there’s no safety or efficacy data for the vaccines in people who were treated for Covid-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma; Trump’s treatment for Covid-19 included the monoclonal antibody cocktail made by Regeneron. The CDC’s guidance said “vaccination should be deferred for at least 90 days, as a precautionary measure until additional information becomes available, to avoid interference of the antibody treatment with vaccine-induced immune responses.”
The President-elect received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on live national television last week, and Harris received the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on camera earlier Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence was administered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at an on-camera event the week prior to Biden.
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which both recently received emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, both require two doses administered several weeks apart.
Biden reiterated his pledge to sign a face mask mandate on his first day in office, and urged Americans to listen to public health experts and wear masks.
He also reiterated that a national priority of his incoming administration is to return kids to in-school instruction safely. Congress, he said, needs to provide funding so that schools with already tight budgets can afford to take the proper precautions amid the pandemic
The President-elect said his administration would ramp up Covid-19 testing, lamenting: “After 10 months of the pandemic, we still don’t have enough testing. It’s a travesty.”
This story has been updated with more from Biden’s remarks.