- President-elect Joe Biden will be taking office on Wednesday just as the US is in the middle of an enormous coronavirus vaccine effort.
- The vaccine rollout so far has been chaotic, and Biden will be in charge of retooling the program, as he takes charge of efforts to pull the US out of the pandemic.
- The plan will no longer go by the Trump administration’s name, “Operation Warp Speed.”
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The early weeks of the US coronavirus vaccine rollout have been confusing and chaotic, and now the task will fall on Joe Biden to steer the ship the rest of the way once he takes office on January 20.
“I’m convinced we can get it done,” Biden said on Friday at an event live broadcast in Wilmington, Delaware, announcing his vaccine plan. “This is a time to set big goals and to pursue them with courage and conviction because the health of the nation is literally at stake.”
He described the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout — the one he’ll inherit in just a few days — a “dismal failure.”
The problems so far are the result of poor planning and coordination between the Trump administration and states, an under-funded public health system, and unanticipated problems that stem from the vaccines needing to be stored cold and used quickly.
While the number of shots going into people’s arms each day is just starting to accelerate, the US is still struggling to get to the goal of 1 million shots a day. As of Friday, roughly 11 million shots had been administered, but hundreds of millions more will be needed to get the US to herd immunity.
Vaccinations also will need to speed up if Biden is to fulfill his promise to have 100 million shots in people’s arms within his first 100 days in office. Biden on Friday acknowledged when he announced how he’d achieve that feat, that it would take time and that his administration would have “stumbles.”
Here are the six biggest takeaways about the plan:
Not ‘Operation Warp Speed’
The name Operation Warp Speed will head out the door along with Trump, whose tenure ends at noon on January 20. It was the moniker chosen for the Trump administration’s effort to quickly approve and manufacture coronavirus vaccines. Longtime Food and Drug Administration career official Peter Marks suggested the name. Marks was a big “Star Trek” fan who had a major say in whether the vaccines were safe and effective.
But some critics of the name “Operation Warp Speed” were concerned that it might come across to the public that the vaccines were rushed through authorization without appropriate oversight. The Biden team appears to have caught on and will be re-branding the effort, though it hasn’t released the new name yet.
—Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) January 15, 2021
Convenient vaccination sites
Biden promised the rollout of the vaccine would be equitable. So far, white people have been getting the largest share of vaccines, even though the coronavirus has hit communities of color the hardest.
To expand access, his administration will put the vaccine in hard-to-reach areas. Biden said that by the end of his first month in office he wants to have 100 centers to vaccinate millions of people at sports arenas, school gyms, and community centers.
“Think of places that are convenient and accessible,” he said.
The administration will set up vaccines in homeless shelters, jails, and institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They’ll also deploy mobile clinics, which are typically run out of vans, to go to small towns and rural parts of the US.
Biden said his administration will create vaccine programs with Federally Qualified Health Centers. These healthcare providers give care to 30 million patients across the US, many of whom can’t afford healthcare.
Biden wants Congress to allocate another $20 billion toward the vaccination program. This would add to the $9 billion Congress allocated in December as part of its most recent relief package.
Congress took eight months to pass that stimulus that came with a $900 billion price tag. That delay is one of the reasons states have struggled in their vaccine rollout, given that so many public health programs are underfunded. It’s not clear how long it’ll take the $9 billion to get to states.
Biden asked for more vaccine funding on Thursday when he rolled out his $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal.
Big ad campaign
Biden also pitched a “federally led, locally focused” ad campaign to convince people to get a vaccine. He didn’t’ say how much he wanted to spend on such an effort.
“The campaign will work to elevate trusted local voices and outline the historic efforts to deliver a safe and effective vaccine as part of a national strategy for beating COVID-19,” the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to a fact sheet about the plans.
People with essential jobs move up in line
The Biden administration will change up which groups should be first in line for a coronavirus vaccine. It will tell states to provide vaccines to people 65 and older and to those who have essential jobs such as teachers, firefighters, and grocery store workers.
But not everyone in those groups would get vaccines right away because more vaccines still need to be made, Biden warned.
“The supply is not where it needs to be,” he said, adding that as more shots become available more people will receive them. He promised to use the Defence Production Act to increase the manufacturing of needles, refrigerators needed to keep shots cold, and protective equipment.
The plan adds to the current system that considers healthcare workers and nursing home residents a top priority. On Tuesday, the Trump administration also told states that they could vaccinate people 65 and older.
But where the plans differ is that the Trump administration added people with chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, to that list of priority groups. Biden’s team did not.
The federal government already does not have enough in reserves to guarantee that the expanded group of eligible people can get a vaccine, according to a Washington Post investigation.
States ultimately get to decide what their priority groups are, but they look to the federal government for guidance.
You’ll hear from the covid team more often
Biden promised to provide regular updates about his administration’s progress and any changes in their goals. But he didn’t specify how often officials would speak to the public, whether weekly or daily.
“We will be transparent about the decisions we are making and why we are making the decisions,” Biden said. “You are entitled to know.”
Federal scientists were muzzled under the Trump administration. While the president early in 2020 regularly answered pandemic questions from reporters, he often contradicted his own scientists and gave out false information.
In recent weeks the CDC has been doing occasional phone calls with reporters, but there’s no regular schedule.