WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. criticized the speed of vaccine distribution under the Trump administration on Tuesday, pledging to increase the pace when he takes office and soberly warned of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Making a grim assessment of the months ahead, Mr Biden said this would be “a very difficult time for our nation” and admonished Americans to make the sacrifices necessary to overcome the destruction of the virus.
“It will take all of the determination and determination that we as Americans have to make this happen,” he said.
He warned that if the current pace of vaccine administration continues under President Trump, “it will take years, not months” to vaccinate the nation. And he said he directed his team to prepare for a more aggressive effort after taking office in three weeks, and promised to “move heaven and earth to point us in the right direction”.
“This will be the greatest operational challenge we have ever faced as a nation,” said Biden during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, “but we will make it.”
Mr Biden will take the presidency during a health crisis that has killed more than 338,000 people in the United States and caused widespread economic disruption. The distribution of vaccines to the American people will be an early test for him.
Earlier this month, federal officials announced that 20 million people would receive their first vaccinations by the end of the year. As of Monday morning, 11.4 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been shipped across the country, but only 2.1 million people in the US had reportedly received their first dose a dashboard maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionThis most likely reflects a delay in reporting of several days.
Mr Biden has vowed to get 100 million vaccine shots in the arms of Americans in his first 100 days in office. Vaccination currently requires two shots, which suggests that around 50 million people would be vaccinated during that time.
On Tuesday, Mr Biden announced new members to his Covid-19 response team, including vaccination, testing and supply chain management coordinators.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s efforts to accelerate vaccine development and adoption, Billions of dollars spent to help drug companies test and manufacture their vaccines and ensure they have a buyer. These investments have helped vaccines become available much faster than many experts had predicted.
Even so, the launch of these vaccines has started slower than federal officials had hoped.
“We are certainly not at the numbers we wanted at the end of December,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s foremost infectious disease expert, on CNN Tuesday. But he added, “I think when we get into January we will see an increase in momentum.”
Moncef Slaoui, the scientific advisor to Operation Warp Speed, said just last week that the chances were good that the first 100 million people in the US would be vaccinated by the end of March.
Michael Pratt, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, defended the pace of vaccine adoption. In a statement, he said it was “evidence of the success of Operation Warp Speed” that 20 million cans had already been made available to states and other jurisdictions. (Not all cans were shipped.) And Mr. Trump said in one Tweet It is “up to the states to distribute the vaccines as soon as they have been brought into the designated areas by the federal government”.
The pace of vaccination in the United States is expected to accelerate in the first few months of next year as more vaccines become available and more facilities distribute them to a wider range of Americans. To date, vaccines have mainly been given to healthcare workers in hospitals, as well as residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr Biden said he could “return to normal next year”, but also offered a threatening forecast for the near future. The next few months could be “the toughest in this entire pandemic,” he said, adding, “I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth.”
“We have to steel our spikes for the future,” he said.
He expressed hope that Mr Trump, who refused to wear a mask and made fun of Mr Biden during the campaign to wear a mask, could continue to make a positive impact on the public.
“It would make a world of difference for President Trump to say, ‘Wear masks,'” Biden said. “I hope the president will clearly urge all Americans to take the vaccine when it becomes available.”
Hours before Mr Biden spoke, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received her first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The recording was televised, as was Mr. Biden’s last week when he received the Pfizer vaccine in a Delaware hospital.
Ms. Harris received the Moderna vaccine at United Medical Center, a public hospital in southeast Washington. She encouraged Americans to get vaccinated too, saying, “It’s relatively painless. It goes very quickly. It’s safe. ”Her husband, Doug Emhoff, also received the vaccine Tuesday.
State and local officials have long said they need more money to distribute and administer vaccines. The $ 900 billion aid package that Mr Trump put into law on Sunday provides more than $ 8 billion in vaccine distribution, roughly equivalent to the health departments’ $ 8.4 billion requested by Congress. The C.D.C. had in September sent $ 200 million to the states for the effort followed by another $ 140 million this month.
The government has said the goal is to have anyone who wants a vaccine able to have a vaccine by June, but it has not yet provided enough vaccines to be approved for use. The United States is committed to receiving enough vaccines to vaccinate 200 million of the approximately 260 million American adults who are eligible for the vaccination.
Moderna has agreed to ship 200 million doses of its vaccine to the United States, with the first half coming in late March and late March second half comes by the end of June.
Pfizer has also agreed to provide 200 million doses. With each person taking two shots, 120 million cans are running out.
In the summer, before the vaccine was shown to be effective, Pfizer agreed to give the United States an initial 100 million doses. At that time, the government passed on an offer from Pfizer to secure additional supplies.
However, when it became clear that more doses were needed, the government resumed talks with Pfizer. In a deal announced last week, Pfizer agreed to deliver an additional 70 million doses through June and an additional 30 million through July.
Under the deal, the government agreed to invoke the Defense Equipment Manufacture Act, a Korean War-era law that allows the government to secure critical shipments faster by forcing suppliers to prioritize orders from a specific contractor. Operation Warp Speed has applied the Defense Production Act 18 times to date, including making glass vials and syringes, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Mr Biden said Tuesday that when he takes office he will also apply the Defense Production Act and said he will “instruct private industry to expedite the manufacture of the materials and protective equipment needed for the vaccines”.
The government has some means of providing vaccines to 60 million American adults that are not covered by existing contracts with Pfizer and Moderna.
It may be possible to exercise options to buy more doses of Pfizer or Moderna. The government could also turn to third-party vaccines that are expected to report late-stage results in the coming weeks. Johnson & Johnson is expecting results from a study by the end of next month on its single vaccine, a format that is easier to dispense than Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. A US study evaluating a two-shot vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford could yield results in February.
On Tuesday, Mr Biden admitted he was not yet in control of the government’s virus response, saying, “My ability to change the direction of this pandemic will begin in three weeks.” And he made it clear that next year he would need help from Congress to provide additional funding to carry out his plans.
But even when he warned of the difficult weeks and months, he was optimistic in the long term.
“We’ll get through this,” he said. “The days are brighter.”
Thomas Kaplan reported from Washington, and Rebecca Robbins of Bellingham, Wash.