US President-elect Joe Biden will release most available COVID-19 vaccine doses to speed delivery to more people in the United States, a reversal of the Trump administration’s approach, his office said on Friday.
“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement.
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Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now”.
Under the Trump administration’s approach, the government has been holding back millions of doses of vaccine to guarantee people can get a second shot, which provides maximum protection against COVID-19. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. One-shot vaccines are still undergoing testing.
In a letter on Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer General Gustave Perna, a group of state governors urged the federal government to tap into the “reserved doses” of COVID-19 vaccines and send them to states that need them.
After a glimmer of hope when the first vaccines were approved last month, the nation’s inoculation campaign has gotten off to a slow start.
The Trump administration has fallen short of its goal to vaccinate 20 million Americans with a first of two required doses by the end of 2020. Of the 29.4 million doses distributed, about 5.9 million have been administered, or 27 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In a speech last week, before his election victory was certified by Congress, the president-elect said he intends to speed up vaccinations by having the federal government take a stronger role to make sure vaccines are not only available, but that shots are going into the arms of more Americans.
“The Trump administration plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind – far behind,” Biden said. “If it continues to move as it is now, it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”
The American Hospital Association estimates the nation would need to vaccinate 1.8 million people a day, every day, from January 1 to May 31, to reach the goal of having widespread immunity or so-called “herd immunity” which involves vaccinating at least 75 percent of the population.
Biden said his administration will put in place a much more aggressive vaccination campaign, with greater federal involvement and leadership, and the goal of administering 100 million shots in the first 100 days.
He said he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have been talking with state and local leaders about a coordinated approach that meshes the efforts of governments at all levels. Among the specifics: Opening up vaccination centres and sending mobile vaccine units to hard-to-reach communities.
The Biden transition office said its experts believe pushing out available vaccines as fast as possible will not create problems for people needing their second dose. Biden will not hesitate to use a Cold War-era law to direct private industry to supply materials for vaccine production, should that become necessary, his office said.
Biden announced his plan to push out more vaccine doses after eight Democratic governors wrote to the Trump administration on Friday urging it to do as much.
“The federal government currently has upwards of 50 percent of currently produced vaccines held back,” the governors wrote.
“While some of these life-saving vaccines are sitting in Pfizer freezers, our nation is losing 2,661 Americans each day, according to the latest seven-day average. The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable. We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately.”