Biden acts to expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution
President Biden announced Tuesday that his administration will rush additional vaccine doses to states, territories and tribal governments and purchase 200 million more, ramping up its effort to inoculate more Americans more quickly as the death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise.
Under the plan, 10 million doses would be distributed each week for the next three weeks, up from the current 8.6 million. Acknowledging that even the increased number of doses is unlikely to meet the vast demand for vaccines, Biden urged patience and encouraged people to continue to wear masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“The brutal truth is, it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” he said. “In the next few months, masks — not vaccines — are the best defense against COVID-19.”
An average of 3,000 people have died of COVID-19 each day for the last week, and the total death toll could surpass 500,000 next month. New variants of the virus are also believed to be more contagious, increasing the potential for faster spread of the disease.
Biden said the additional 200 million vaccine doses would be delivered this summer, bringing the total purchased to 600 million. Half would be from Pfizer and the other half from Moderna. Because each vaccination requires two doses to be fully effective, the additional supply would be enough to inoculate an additional 100 million Americans.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” he said. “It’s not hyperbole.”
Although Biden credited scientists and the previous administration for successfully developing vaccines, he complained that the distribution plan he inherited was poorly developed. “The vaccine program was in worse shape than we anticipated,” he said.
Biden did not specify his concerns. When he took office last week, the country was already nearing the pace necessary to accomplish his goal of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days as president. On Monday, he suggested raising the target to 150 million shots.
Insufficient vaccine supplies are not the only challenge, however. Some states have struggled to quickly administer doses that they’ve already acquired, leaving people frustrated and confused.
Administration officials said more details on improving distribution would be released on Wednesday. They have begun holding conference calls with state leaders, conversations that previously devolved into acrimony under then-President Trump.
“We are trying to reset and be partners here in a more effective way than we’ve seen over the past 10 months,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. She acknowledged that there will be more challenges ahead.
“This is going to be hard,” Psaki said. “We’re not going to sugarcoat that.”
Biden said his administration was working to improve the flow of information so that local officials know three weeks in advance how many doses will be available to them.
“This is going to help make sure governors, mayors and local leaders have greater certainty around supply so they can carry out their plans to vaccinate as many people as possible,” he said.
California is struggling to get shots into arms, and the state’s epidemiologist said last week that it could take until June to inoculate all residents 65 and older. Not only have supplies dwindled, but websites for booking vaccine appointments have crashed and older residents have struggled to navigate the system.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Tuesday at a news conference in Annapolis that there is an “extremely limited supply of vaccines that are being produced and allocated,” adding, “This will obviously be a much longer process than any of us would like.”
The faster distribution announced by Biden won’t make that much of a difference, Hogan said. The state is already administering 18,000 doses per day, and the extra supply still won’t be able to keep pace with the rate of vaccinations.
Vice President Kamala Harris received her second dose of the vaccine on Tuesday.
“I want to urge everyone to take the vaccine when it is your turn,” she said afterward. “It is really pretty painless and it will save your life.”
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