WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden on Friday sketched out his proposal for overhauling the country’s slow and uneven effort to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19, pledging to open more centers for administering those shots, boost the public health workforce, and improve the information flow to states so they can better plan.
Biden has called for administering 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days in office, a goal that will require a massive uptick in vaccine production, distribution, and injections.
A month after the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved, only 30 million doses have been sent to states and less than 12 million have been administered, according to tracking data compiled by Bloomberg News.
Biden said in a speech Friday afternoon that he wants states to allow more people to be vaccinated, including anyone 65 or older and essential workers like teachers, first responders, and grocery store employees. The Trump administration issued a similar directive to states earlier this week, urging the expansion of who is eligible for a shot.
But Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services drew blowback for confusing statements that had indicated to states that more doses would be sent so they could carry out the vaccination of more people.
Instead, the reserved doses that the federal government had on hand were just those earmarked for people who already had a first dose, according to the New York Times. That left no additional doses to help states expand the population of who is receiving a vaccine.
Biden said his administration will not hold back a second dose of the two-shot regimen, and that it would use the Defense Production Act to accelerate production of supplies needed to administer the vaccine, such as syringes and protective equipment.
He also said they would fully reimburse states for any costs of National Guard members deployed to assist with vaccination, as well as provide more resources for administrative costs and offer clearer, more reliable information on the doses being sent.
“Right now, we’re hearing that they can’t plan, because they don’t know how much supply of vaccines they can expect and what time frame,” Biden said. “That stops when we’re in office.”
Biden’s comments on his incoming administration’s plan for ramping up vaccinations expanded upon the proposal he outlined Thursday evening for a new $1.9 trillion economic and coronavirus relief package.
Democrats and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce swiftly praised that proposal, though congressional Republicans, including Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rick Scott of Florida, released statements Friday raising eyebrows at the price tag.
“While there are some good things in President-elect Biden’s proposed package, like help for individuals and small businesses and increased support for vaccines and testing, he plans to spend too much of the $1.9 trillion dollars in taxpayer money on liberal priorities that have nothing to do with the coronavirus,” Scott said.
Biden said he’s “optimistic” that Congress will provide the funding necessary to carry out his vaccination plan, saying Americans are “ready to spare no effort and no expense to get this done.”
His plan also calls for creating 100 new federally supported health centers within his first 100 days, aimed at better ensuring the vaccines are accessible in areas hard-hit by the virus, particularly rural areas and those with heavily minority populations.
Biden also reiterated his plan to work with mayors and governors to require mask-wearing, describing efforts like masks and social distancing as still crucial to preventing COVID-19 cases that continue to rise.
“I know it has become a partisan issue,” Biden said of mask-wearing, “but what a stupid, stupid thing for it to happen. This is a patriotic act.”