Biden faults Trump for slow vaccine rollout, pledges faster pace

By Emma Kinery and Nancy Cook

Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President-elect Joe Biden slammed the slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccine by President Donald Trump’s administration Tuesday, saying the plan was falling “far behind” where it needs to be.

“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” he said. “If it continues to move as it is now, it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

Biden listed his plans to speed the massive vaccination project, what he called one of the biggest operational challenges in decades.

Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act soon after taking office to help ramp up vaccine production and repeated his vow to distribute 100 million doses of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office, meaning 1 million shots every day.

More than 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S. since the process began on Dec. 14, according to a nationwide tally by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — far fewer than the 20 million the Trump administration promised would be administered by the end of the year.

“I’m going to move heaven and earth to get us going in the right direction,” Biden said. “The Biden-Harris administration will spare no effort to make sure people get vaccinated.”

Biden spoke after getting a briefing from his coronavirus advisory team. Among other steps he listed were a massive education campaign to increase trust in the vaccines, particularly among minority communities that haven’t always been “treated with honesty and dignity” throughout U.S. history. He also warned Congress that it will have to appropriate tens of billions of dollars more than the $900 billion bill it just passed to fund his plans to increase testing and other steps.

Earlier Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he’s concerned that January virus levels in the U.S. may be worse than December’s after many Americans traveled for the holidays. The U.S. has seen over 19.3 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 335,000 deaths.

“We certainly are not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December,” Fauci said of the rate of vaccination on CNN. “Even if you undercount, 2 million as an undercount, how much undercount could it be? So we are below where we want to be.”

The army general running the U.S. vaccine distribution effort said earlier this month that a lag between when shots are produced and when they are cleared for shipment led to widespread confusion over how many doses states will receive.

Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, said the U.S. would allocate 20 million doses of the vaccines by the end of December, though some may be delivered in the first week of January.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris went to a low-income, largely African American part of the District of Columbia on Tuesday to get her vaccine as part of the incoming administration’s effort to boost trust of the shots.

“That was easy,” she joked. “I barely felt it.” Her husband, Doug Emhoff, was also getting the shot at the United Medical Center.

“I trust the scientists,” Harris told reporters who accompanied her. “I urge everyone, when it is your turn, get vaccinated.” She said she chose that medical center so people living in minority communities knew they could get the vaccine from people who worked “in the hospital where your children were born, or where an elderly relative got medical treatment.”

(John Tozzi and Gregory Korte contributed to this report.)