President-elect Joe Biden on Friday sketched out a plan for more aggressive federal action on COVID-19 vaccination, including not just more assistance for states, but also the direct distribution of shots through federally managed mass clinics.
But he also warned Americans that, given the spread of the disease and poor management of the pandemic response to date, “things will get worse before they get better.”
“Truth be told, we are in for a very dark winter,” Biden said. “We need to turn frustration into motivation.”
Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden sketched out a bleak picture ― of the pandemic ravaging parts of the country, a new virus variant threatening to spread even more quickly, and the distribution of vaccines going much more slowly than President Donald Trump’s administration once promised.
As of Friday, about 31 million doses had been distributed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is still well short of the 40 million goal that the Trump administration had set for the end of 2020. And only 12 million doses have actually gone into people’s arms.
Biden has previously said that number is unacceptable and, on Friday, reiterated his pledge of 100 million shots within the first 100 days of his presidency. That would represent an increase from the current pace ― although, critically, the pace would have to quicken even more for the country to have any hope of achieving herd immunity some time in the summer.
The challenge is daunting. Vaccine distribution in such a large and diverse country was never going to be easy, and peer countries are also struggling, for a variety of reasons.
But examples of Trump administration failures keep piling up. The latest is a Wall Street Journal report, published Friday, that federal authorities delayed key decisions and approving state plans for many months.
That followed an earlier Washington Post piece detailing that states would not be getting extra doses this month as promised, because a large stash that the federal government had supposedly been holding in reserve had already gone out the door.
Although Biden didn’t mention those reports specifically, on Friday he suggested that states ― and the public ― could expect better from his administration. “You have my word, we will manage the hell out of this operation,” Biden said.
Biden’s new framework calls, first and foremost, for spending $20 billion on a national vaccination program and creating a new public health care workforce 100,000 people strong. Both are elements of the broader COVID-19 rescue proposal he introduced on Thursday.
The Biden plan also envisions new mass vaccination sites and mobile clinics ― with the federal government assisting state and local governments or, when necessary, operating clinics directly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Within the first month of his administration, Biden said, FEMA would be operating 100 mass vaccination centers around the country.
Biden is vowing to improve the flow of data about vaccine supply and distribution, as it moves from the manufacturers to the states and eventually individual providers. State officials have said repeatedly that they are struggling to get timely, reliable information, making it impossible to plan where shots will go and when ― which, in turn, makes it difficult for individual providers like hospitals and clinics to make appointments.
Many of Biden’s ideas will sound familiar, because versions already exist on a smaller scale, like the mass vaccination clinics are now popping up in sports stadiums and theme parks around the country.
A big part of what Biden is trying to do is simply put more resources behind these efforts so they can expand, and change the leadership in Washington so that it can steer states, as well as provide them with help.
For that reason, success will depend not simply on the policies but the people enacting them ― starting with officials like Jeff Zients, whom Biden had already tapped to run the COVID-19 response, and Andy Slavitt, whom Biden on Friday named to a temporary post on the administration’s COVID-19 team.
It’s a reunion of sorts for the two men, who were recruited by the Obama administration in 2013 to help rescue HealthCare.gov, the online insurance marketplace that had failed at launch.
Fixing that was a hard job. Fixing the vaccine rollout promises to be even harder. Biden, on Friday, warned Americans to expect as much.
“It may take many months to get where we need to be,” Biden said. “There may be stumbles. … We’ll ask you to keep the faith.”